Twenty years ago this month I cast my first vote as a Republican after 20 years voting as a member of the Democratic Party. While at UCLA in 1958, I registered as a Democrat in order to vote for Edmund G. “Pat” Brown as governor of California. I re-registered with the GOP in order to vote for Jeff Bell in the June 6, 1978 New Jersey primary for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senator. Both were successful votes. Brown was elected and Bell won the primary against five-term Sen. Clifford Case. I then learned that being a Republican is different from being a Democrat. After his stunning win of the GOP nomination by running as a supply-side tax-cutter, Bell decided his divine mission was really to stamp out sin. He’d won the primary without any money, just a message, and now the money rolled in as he prepared for the fall campaign against the Democratic nominee, the former New York Knick and Princeton basketballer, Bill Bradley, the most liberal candidate in the field. Bradley, who had expected to run against one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, then did what I learned Democrats do. He re-tooled to run against a conservative, disappearing for a month to devise his own tax cut and his own military buildup. Bell also re-tooled, blunting his winning tax-cut message by fervently pledging to support constitutional amendments against abortion and for school prayer. After Bradley won the Senate seat, Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, John Sears, conducted a post-election poll to find out why voters decided as they did. Roughly 75% of all voters liked Bell’s tax message, but were underwhelmed by his social issues. When he ran two years later for the GOP presidential nomination, Reagan, another former Democrat, stressed economic growth and the Kemp-Roth tax-cuts and won.
I’ve recounted this history out of total frustration with Republican behavior on the budget resolution passed last week. Like moths to a flame, the GOP cannot resist the opportunity to stamp out sin and balance the budget, whichever comes first. By insisting they have to go by rules they wrote to reduce deficits, the GOP leaders passed a resolution that completely ignores the enormous budget surpluses flooding Treasury. Instead, they propose to cut $100 billion out of social programs over the next five years and use the money to end the so-called “marriage penalty,” which is what the Christian Coalition wants. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has the nerve to celebrate this “victory,” which attracted only three Democratic votes. When President Clinton pushed his 1993 tax increase through the Congress without a Republican vote, it told the voters that they had no choice but to give the GOP control of Congress in 1994. This budget resolution prevents the Republicans from passing the kind of tax cuts that would fuel the economic expansion. At the same time, it helps the Democrats load their guns against GOP candidates this November. As Robert Novak reports in his column today, the really bad guy is Rep. Mark Neumann [R-WI], who wants to pay off the national debt before any tax cuts. But if Gingrich or House Budget Chairman John Kasich wanted to ignore Neumann, they could do so with equanimity. As we reported Friday, Jack Kemp denounced the budget resolution, but if the Republican Party insists on losing Congress in November, Kemp can’t stop them.
There’s still a way out. Chairman Bill Archer of House Ways&Means would love to ignore the obsolete PayGo rule and send a tax bill to the floor out of the projected surpluses. He won’t do it, though, if he has to fight Newt. Wall Street’s friends of Newt should note that the Old Time Religion may be okay for blue chips and bonds, but the low-cap, high-tech equities remain dispirited -- waiting for the rate cuts the GOP promises after it stamps out sin and the national debt.