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THE REVOLUTION SPUTTERS 

Congress' class of '94 turns on the spending spigot

In 1994, I packed my suitcase and went to Washington with dreams of changing the world. For the class of 55 GOP freshmen elected that year, the unifying goal was to bring fiscal discipline to the federal government.

For a time, that dream seemed achievable. We balanced the budget within just a few years, reformed welfare, and brought new levels of efficiency to Congress and to many agencies in Washington's byzantine bureaucracy.

Oh, what a difference a decade makes.

Here we are in 2005. Like an out of control consumer who cuts up his credit cards, pays off his debt, and immediately digs a new, deeper hole, the federal government is back in the red - big time. We're spending on everything from B-2 bombers to Viagra for Medicare recipients to indoor rainforests in Iowa.

The deficit is back with a vengeance, Social Security is slowly going bankrupt. And, once again, we're leaving our kids to pay the bill.

So, what happened to those class of '94 revolutionaries? Like me, many are now doing something else. Even the jefe maximo of the Republican revolution, Newt Gingrich, is spending his time on the speaking and consulting circuit. Official Washington has no appetite for change, so it's no surprise many of us don't work there anymore.

Other budget cutters from that class of '94 now show signs of becoming budget busters, according to a recent analysis by the National Taxpayers Union. Instead of fighting the red ink, they're seeing how much deficit spending they can direct toward their districts.

In a sense, it's hard to blame them. Playing outsider on bill after bill gets you little more than sleepless nights, bad hometown press, retribution from party leaders, difficult re-election battles and fewer lucrative job offers when you leave Congress.

The key problem is that many in Congress think of themselves as representatives but rarely as statesmen. The only way to survive over the long term is to cater to the wishes of their constituencies. And the American public has sent them the same, clear message they've been sending for generations: Open the spending tap as wide as possible, consequences (and rhetoric to the contrary) be damned.

What are the consequences? The simple fact is that if you're a taxpayer under the age of about 40, you're getting the worst financial deal that any generation of Americans has ever received from the government. Your taxes are high now, and they're only going to get higher. Your parents and grandparents will benefit from government-funded health care and retirement stipends, and you'll be left to fend for yourself. The high level of services the government currently provides will drop off as revenues decrease and spending rises. Fiscally, it's the equivalent of being the designated driver and still picking up the bar tab.

If the next generation of Americans wants to change this situation, there are at least three things they have to do. First, get involved in politics as a voter and, more importantly, as an activist. So long as our system is dominated by voters who drive late-model Cadillacs, get a 15 percent senior's discount at Shoney's and never miss an election, it's their interests that are going to get attention, not yours.

Second, don't let your opinions about a single divisive social issue - whether it's gun control, abortion or gay marriage - blind you to the reality that your pocket is being picked no matter what your ideology.

And finally, don't become so wedded to a party label that it obscures the fact that big spenders in Washington spend hugely regardless of party label.

bob.barr@creativeloafing.com

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