Today marks the beginning of the federal government's fiscal year 1999, and to absolutely no one's surprise, both the President and the Congress took time out yesterday from All Monica, All The Time to claim credit for the $70 billion surplus recorded in FY '98. Perhaps needless to say, neither of them deserve it.

The speeches were as predictable as a Gilligan's Island rerun, if not as amusing. The President's message consisted largely of the same vague platitudes about his ostensible economic policies; Congressional Republicans pointed to their longstanding illusion of fiscal discipline. Of course, neither of these bits of electoral pandering will stand scrutiny. The GOP, as they demonstrated during the Reagan years, will happily run deficits out the wazoo if they can buy votes — and, seemingly more important these days, donors — with a tax cut. As for Mr Clinton, his economic policies, like his general ethics, are essentially Richard Nixon's. (Quick now! Who was President the last time the federal budget posted a surplus? Uh-huh.)

In light of this, the current squabble over how much of the surplus to divert to the sacred cause of "saving Social Security" looks even more foolish. Inasmuch as neither Congressmen nor the President are ever going to draw from the Trust Fund — they have their own federal pensions, thank you very much — their pronouncements about how the world would be affected by their particular positions are no more useful than papal decrees on sexuality, which by some strange coincidence come from exactly the same level of experience and expertise. But give the Vatican half credit: when they issue a piece of perfervid pomposity, they call it a "bull".

The Vent

1 October 1998

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 Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill