Grass­ley urges fund­ing freeze on ‘so­cial­ist’ trend

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID R. SANDS

The top Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee on March 23 said an across-the-board freeze on fed­eral spending is needed to reel in Pres­i­dent Obama´s mas­sive bud­get plan, sig­nal­ing a more ac­tive Repub­li­can stance in fight­ing the pres­i­dent’s agenda.

Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, also said the pres­i­dent is pur­su­ing a “so­cial­ist” form of gov­ern­ment that will sti­fle the free mar­ket.

Mr. Grass­ley told ed­i­tors and re­porters at The Wash­ing­ton Times that a spending freeze is nec­es­sary to get the fed­eral deficit un­der con­trol and to show vot­ers that the gov­ern­ment is ca­pa­ble of liv­ing within its means in hard times.

“What you get when you have an across-the-board freeze is ev­ery­body is seen as con­tribut­ing some­thing,” Mr. Grass­ley said.

“Con­gress­men don’t get an in­crease in [pay], gov­ern­ment pen­sions don’t go up, you don’t charge se­nior cit­i­zens more for their Medi­care pre­mium than you did the year be­fore,” he said, adding that a three-year freeze would pro­duce a more dra­matic ef­fect.

As the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, Mr. Grass­ley fig­ures to play a cen­tral role in the fate of some of the pres- ident’s top pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing tax re­form, health care and en­ergy. Mr. Grass­ley’s col­le­gial re­la­tions with Chair­man Max Bau­cus, Mon­tana Demo­crat, only in­creases his clout.

He called for the freeze af­ter Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 bil­lion stim­u­lus plan and pro­posed a $3.5 tril­lion 2010 bud­get, both with ma­jor spending pro­grams de­signed to jump-start the econ­omy and fund Mr. Obama’s ma­jor pol­icy goals.

Mr. Grass­ley, a five-term se­na­tor and noted deficit hawk, said Mr. Obama’s prom­ises to scru­ti­nize con­gres­sional bud­gets and cut waste would barely make a dent in the pro­jected deficits.

“Over a pe­riod of time, there’s some­thing pre­dictable about a freeze, and over a pe­riod of time it makes a big dif­fer­ence,” said Mr. Grass­ley, who noted that he had backed a sim­i­lar freeze in the mid1980s un­der Pres­i­dent Rea­gan. “The mul­ti­plier ef­fect of freez­ing some­thing for three years is very dra­matic.”

In of­ten pointed lan­guage, Mr. Grass­ley called Mr. Obama’s spending plans a “trend to­ward so­cial­ism” that will un­der­mine the pri­vate sec­tor.

Asked whether the Demo­cratic Party should be re­named the “Demo­cratic-So­cial­ist Party,” Mr. Grass­ley said, “I think it would be harm­ful to re­name the party, but it wouldn’t be harm­ful to say there’s a big trend to­ward so­cial­ism within this bud­get.”

He noted that the fed­eral tax take — which av­er­aged 18 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct for two gen­er­a­tions — would rise above 20 per­cent un­der Mr. Obama’s plan, cou­pled with mas­sive deficits for at least a decade. The re­sult: The fed­eral gov­ern­ment would take com­mand of an ever larger share of the econ­omy.

“When­ever the gov­ern­ment does more, there’s less for the pri­vate sec­tor to do,” he said. “That’s a move­ment to­ward so­cial­ism.”

He crit­i­cized the new pres­i­dent for what he said was a re­treat on cam­paign prom­ises to run an open and trans­par­ent gov­ern­ment, cit­ing Mr. Obama’s use of a pres­i­den­tial “sign­ing state­ment” on the re­cent stim­u­lus law to curb pro­tec­tions for fed­eral whistle­blow­ers.

“I’m just telling you a pres­i­dent who said he was go­ing to be the most trans­par­ent pres­i­dent, the most open pres­i­dent, ought to stick with it,” Mr. Grass­ley said. The sign­ing state­ment was “com­pletely con­trary to what he said in the cam­paign.”

While say­ing he was open to work­ing with the new pres­i­dent on key agenda items such as health care, the five-term con­ser­va­tive law­maker di­rectly at­tacked Mr. Obama on sev­eral fronts, from his han­dling of the eco­nomic cri­sis and re­la­tions with Congress to tak­ing time to pre­dict the win­ners of the na­tional col­lege bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment live on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

“We should just be ask­ing the pres­i­dent to not be a show­man, to be [with “Tonight Show” host Jay] Leno or other things that de­tract from what he’s do­ing, like brack­et­ing the NCAA game. Those are dis­trac­tions,” he said.

Mr. Grass­ley said the higher taxes and deficits in Mr. Obama’s bud­get out­line were mak­ing even some Democrats ner­vous, even be­fore the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice re­leased sharply higher new deficit pro­jec­tions on March 20.

“I heard some real ner­vous­ness even be­fore Fri­day [March 20] on the part of a lot of Democrats, and I bet you will re­ally hear it in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives with Blue Dog Democrats,” he said.

Mr. Grass­ley said it was likely that some of the Bush tax cuts will be al­lowed to ex­pire and a plan to fund Mr. Obama’s en­ergy cap-and­trade pro­posal will pass over Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion. He said Mr. Obama would have a tougher time with his pro­pos­als to curb de­duc­tions on char­i­ta­ble giv­ing and mort­gage in­ter­est for higher-in­come tax­pay­ers.

He also ex­pressed doubts that the Se­nate tax-writ­ing panel will pass Mr. Obama’s pro­pos­als to end oil and gas drilling tax breaks worth about $30 bil­lion.

“I don’t think they’ll be re­moved,” he said.

The one el­e­ment of the Obama tax pro­posal that should be con­sid­ered, he said, was a plan to im­pose new ex­cise taxes on off­shore pro­duc­tion in the Gulf of Mex­ico. The plan is de­signed to close loop­holes that have given what the ad­min­is­tra­tion calls “ex­ces­sive royalty re­lief” to oil pro­duc­ers.

On health care re­form, Mr. Grass­ley said, “Health care is go­ing to be a bi­par­ti­san is­sue. In­creas­ing taxes to pay for it I don’t think is go­ing to be bi­par­ti­san.”

BAR­BARA L. SAL­IS­BURY/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, is likely to play a big role in the fate of some of Mr. Obama’s pri­or­i­ties.

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