A Clear Choice: Why the Federal Budget Matters

With round-the-clock news coverage focused on economic uncertainty, presidential campaigns, and yes, political scandals, Americans might easily miss the importance of a seemingly mundane debate now under way in Congress: the annual federal budget debate.

No other document, no other legislative vehicle, comes closer to embracing the government’s comprehensive vision for America than the budget. Especially in this election year, the agendas laid out by Democratic and Republican fiscal plans deserve attention; they will affect America’s direction long after concerns of the present have passed.

As they did last year, Democrats proposed a budget that reflects their governing philosophy. They believe bigger government is better government. And they believe the best way — the only way — to meet our nation’s myriad challenges is with an ever-larger federal government – fueled by ever-higher spending, and financed by ever-higher taxes.

Because they believe only government can meet our nation’s challenges — that government must direct our choices, not just support them — the Democrats’ budget calls for a $683 billion tax increase aimed at chasing ever-higher government spending. This tax hike — the largest in our nation’s history — won’t happen right away. It will start in 2011, long after the next president takes office, and long after the next Congress is elected. But the path to these higher taxes starts now, because the Democrats’ budget requires them to finance their massive increases to the already-unsustainable rate of government spending, while still showing near-term balance.

To deflect criticism, Democrats claim these tax increases will just affect the wealthy. But in addition to harming the economy, these tax hikes will hit all who pay income taxes. They will hit middle-income workers and small businesses with higher marginal rates; married couples with a return of the marriage penalty; families with a $500 per-child tax increase; and entrepreneurs with higher taxes on growth-generating investments, among others.

Republicans believe there is a better way. We believe that the nucleus of our society, and the engine of economic growth in this country, is the individual, the family, the entrepreneur — not the government. And we recognize that government doesn’t provide benefits; it can only transfer resources generated by the economy. This does not mean we oppose government; government plays a critical role in protecting our security, enforcing laws that promote economic growth and job creation, and maintaining a reliable safety net for those who need it, when they need it.

But Republicans recognize every dollar spent by government is a dollar out of the paychecks or saving accounts of American taxpayers. With that recognition comes a great responsibility: unless we believe the federal government can spend a dollar better than the taxpayer who earned it, we should not take it. In that deliberation, more often than not, the taxpayer — not the government — should come out ahead.

That’s especially important now, with prices rising for everything from gas to groceries, and with the value of Americans’ most important investment — their homes — under downward pressure. Republicans believe that the last thing working families can afford is higher taxes. The failure of politicians to restrain their own appetite for spending simply doesn’t justify taking more from families who are finding it much harder to get by.  

In short, the fundamental choices reflected in our budget debate are these: Who can better decide how to spend a dollar? Who is more in need of that dollar? And ultimately, Who should come first — the federal government, or the American taxpayers?