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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Missing Ross Perot

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Forget all the snide knocks at the eccentric Texas billionaire, Ross Perot proved conclusively in his 1992 independent run for the presidency that even a losing candidate, with a strong message, can profoundly change national policy.

It was Candidate Perot who blew the whistle on the soap opera that had been running in Washington for the previous 12 years, all of which featured a Republican president in the White House and a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

Every year, the conservative president would submit a seriously unbalanced budget to the liberal House, for which the president would be ridiculed and attacked by congressional Democrats and their allies.

After an indecent interval, the House would then pass a close facsimile of the seriously unbalanced budget the conservative White House had submitted, for which the Democrats would be ridiculed and attacked by the president who had submitted that budget and his allies.

Perot pointed out that the United States all the way from the Revolutionary War, through the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, two World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War -- including the Great Depression -- had, by the end of 1980, run up a total national debt of $1 trillion.

Then, in just 12 years -- with no wars and no depression -- elected politicians in Washington had quadrupled our national debt to $4 trillion.

Prompted by Perot, voters asked, "Who did this?" Each side pointed a finger at the other guy. The fact that between 1993 and 2001, the Clinton administration acted courageously and seriously to reduce and to eliminate federal budget deficits is testimonial to Ross Perot's 1992 campaign.

Today, President George W. Bush confronts a frequently overlooked drawback to winning a second White House term: Unlike the Newcomer, who can find out that things were even worse than he had charged during the campaign (and get the benefit of the doubt from the public), the re-elected chief executive cannot credibly "discover" an already pre-existing problem.

And that is exactly what the mushrooming national debt -- fed by the Bush administration's record budget deficits -- has now become.

The numbers alone are as daunting as they are damning. Since the day George W. Bush was inaugurated -- and thanks in large part to his four tax cuts to finance two wars -- U.S. indebtedness has swelled by $1.8 trillion.

While mouthing pieties about "family values," we have permitted to be committed in our name a collective felony of intergenerational abuse by which we have given ourselves unneeded tax breaks and imposed upon our own children and grandchildren the burden of paying our bills. Did somebody say something about "moral values"?

Last year, the United States government paid nearly a billion dollars a day just on interest on the nation's debt. Forty percent of all the federal income taxes paid by all working Americans went to pay interest on the national debt.

Those billions in interest payments do not put a book in a child's hands, or fill a prescription for a sick senior, or protect our ports or the quality of our air, or defend the nation, or lift a family out of poverty.

It simply constitutes an enormous transfer payment from the taxes paid by nurses, teachers, firefighters and small business folks to those affluent enough to buy bonds.

Increasingly, those bond-holders are not Americans. The increase, this past year alone, in the national debt held by private bond-holders was $380 billion; the increase, this year, in foreign-held U.S. debt, led by Japan and China, was $370 billion.

You do the math. Ninety-seven percent of the increase in privately held debt is under the control of foreign interests. Just how tough do you think the Bush administration can afford to get on the subject of labor or trade or human rights violations with a major creditor such as China? Not very.

Just before the Thanksgiving break, the Congress passed and the president signed legislation to raise the government's federal debt limit by another $800 billion.

The 1992 words of Ross Perot are even more timely today: "We've allowed ourselves to be lulled into thinking the bills would never come due.

We've been led to believe we could keep on borrowing our children's money to finance a lifestyle we haven't earned and can't afford. It can't go on."

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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