Big spenders

The Democratic Party did something this week that may play a huge role in determining who captures the White House in November — and it had nothing to do with choosing between presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama and former first lady Hillary Clinton in Texas or Ohio.

What may end up far more important is a committee vote in Washington today, which is expected to approve a Democratic budget plan unveiled Wednesday by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Democrats should know how important the economy is. In early 1992, incumbent President George H.W. Bush — the current president’s father — was initially considered unbeatable following Republican-led victories in the Cold War and the liberation of Kuwait. But Democratic strategist James Carville famously advised his client, former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, that those issues were secondary, drawling: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

But where President Bush’s budget calls for a five-year freeze on the money that finances federal meddling in education, child-raising and local transportation decisions, Democrats are proposing a $3.5 billion increase for energy programs, a $5.7 billion increase for education programs and Head Start, and a $3.9 billion hike for transportation — above today’s massive spending levels.

Bush budget director Jim Nussle warned again Monday that every additional dime Congress spends “will push the budget deficit higher.” But congressional Democrats don’t bat an eye as they load up their standard-bearer with the burden of $18 billion in planned new spending.

In fact, all that money can be spent, and the budget can still be back in surplus in four years, they insist. How?

Democrats argue their spending spree can be paid for by “closing loopholes and improving tax collections.” Republicans reply that means higher taxes on Americans earning $70,000 or more, and on small businesses that employ about half of everybody else.

Sen. Conrad’s plan allows Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire in 2010 — which amounts to the largest tax hike in U.S. history. The Conrad plan would also allow the alternative minimum tax — originally aimed at the wealthy — to start siphoning pay from more than 20 million middle-class taxpayers after one more year, canceling out the mortgage interest and other deductions they’ve come to count on.

The plan also endorses an “emergency economic stimulus” plan of up to $35 billion that could include jobless benefits, food stamps and heating subsidies for the poor.

Democrats complain that it’s unfair for conservatives to call them “the tax-and-spend party.” But their party’s presidential front-runner, Sen. Barack Obama, has already proposed an “Obama Spendorama” that would require huge tax hikes to fund $300 billion per year in additional federal meddling and spending.

Now, instead of stomping on the brakes, congressional Democrats propose to put the pedal to the metal.

We’ve seen this before. In 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988 …

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