Would Price Waterhouse Approve of This?

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Hear that? That’s the sound of fiscal conservatism, spinning in its grave. Faced with charges from the White House that an $800 billion tax cut is more than even this flush government can afford, Republicans — instead of taming spending to make room for it — are simply cooking the books. Monday, House GOPers declared $3 billion in routine funding for veterans health care to be an "emergency" measure, even though it’s hardly that — a transparent dodge of the 1997 spending caps that helped balance the budget in the first place. TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan says the Republicans will do whatever it takes to get a tax cut to President Clinton’s desk for the inevitable (and politically charged, they hope) veto. But this isn’t helping their credibility any.

"Any tax cut that big has to be based on those caps' not being lifted," says Branegan, "otherwise there’s not enough money left to provide for Medicare and Social Security. Both parties had as much as admitted that the caps were history this year — and under this plan, they certainly are. This is just an accounting trick." Which is not to say that the spending caps are still necessary, or even a good idea, when there’s this much surplus to go around. But shenanigans like these –- from the party of small government, no less — just gives Clinton more ammunition to pump the tax cut bill full of rhetorical holes, and claim the mantle of fiscal restraint for himself. The Republicans aren’t just passing a tax cut they can’t pay for, they’re using creative accounting to hide that reality. The GOP is always complaining that Bill Clinton steals their issues. This one they’re just giving away.