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The stealth spending spree

In an orgy of proposed special-interest spending and tax breaks, Congress all but put itself on a collision course with the general interest of the American people. Constrained by spending caps that require offsets for new expenditures, the Republicans proposed to provide more for farm subsidies at the expense of health and education programs, more for space science programs at the expense of AmeriCorps, and more for half-empty Veterans Administration hospitals at the expense of housing programs. At one point this week, Congress was $30 billion over its spending caps.

One way to beat the caps is by calling an appropriation an "emergency." By Congress's lights, $11 billion in off-budget "emergencies" include not only farm relief, but $4.5 billion to conduct the national census, which is mandated by the Constitution.

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Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas likes to say that more money for Medicare and education represents "a $30 billion spending spree." But Republicans, and some Democrats, do not see a spending spree in $100 billion in proposed tax breaks as part of the overall tax reduction bill. The revenue that doesn't come in isn't as visible as the money that goes out. A "stealth spending spree," you might call it.

Beneficiaries of proposed tax concessions would include billionaire Warren Buffett, and the oil, gas and nuclear power industries. Special breaks, in language so complicated that it is almost impossible for the layperson to comprehend, would go to multinational corporations and to insurance companies that have merged. And restaurant owners are ecstatic about the proposed restoration of 80 percent deductibility for business meals. That means that every taxpayer would have the joy of knowing that he or she has helped to finance someone's fancy lunch.

Republicans like to talk of utilizing a trillion dollars of the surplus - that, by the way, is still only a gleam in the eye of budgeteers - to return to the American taxpayers money that is rightfully theirs. But it would not be returned with an even hand. Much of it would go not to the average taxpayer, but to special interests whose lobbies know the way to a legislator's heart - and pocket.

So, we get tax reductions for maple-syrup producers in Vermont, for sawmills in Maine, for woodlot owners in South Carolina, and for whaling captains in Alaska.

As they say on TV, "It's your money, you know."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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