WASHINGTON -- Asked this week why he voted
against Head Start
when he was in Congress in the 1980's,
Dick Cheney said he
was "motivated by a
concern for fiscal responsibility in an
era when the nation did not have the
projected surpluses it now has."
"I would not vote against Head
Start today," Mr. Cheney, the expected Republican vice presidential candidate, said this week. When later
pressed about some of his votes in
Congress, he underlined the point
that the Reagan era of the 1980's was
a time "when we had huge budget
deficits, no money and when we really had to be concerned about federal
One can easily understand why
Mr. Cheney might have worried
about fiscal responsibility as a congressman in the deficit-ridden 1980's.
But it's pretty hard to swallow his
claim that such concerns were why
he was one of only a handful of
legislators to oppose improving education opportunities for poor children.
In the early 80's, the Head Start
program cost about $1 billion a year.
That's small potatoes compared with
Ronald Reagan's 1981 tax reduction
act, which cost $870 billion over its
first five years. Yet while Mr. Cheney says he saw the tiny Head Start
program as unaffordable, he was
able to put aside any fiscal doubts he
may have harbored and enthusiastically support President Reagan's
budget-busting tax plan. He voiced
no objection to the measure's hundreds of billions of dollars in tax
subsidies for oil companies, utilities,
railroads and other corporate interests.
Mr. Cheney also happily voted for
Mr. Reagan's big increases in defense spending, which grew from
$134 billion in 1980 to $273 billion by
1986 -- almost a 50 percent increase
adjusted for inflation.
The upshot of these Cheney-supported policies was to triple the
budget deficit between 1980 and 1986,
bringing it to its highest level as a
share of the economy since the end of
World War II. We've only recently
climbed our way out of the enormous
deficit hole that Mr. Cheney helped
It wasn't blind loyalty to President
Reagan that caused him to vote the
way he did as a congressman. After
all, Mr. Reagan supported the Head
Start program. And in 1986, when Mr.
Reagan pushed to undo some of the
damage his earlier tax bills had
wrought, Mr. Cheney worked hard to
try to defeat the president. In opposing the 1986 tax reform act, widely
considered to be Mr. Reagan's finest
accomplishment, Mr. Cheney once
again allied himself with an array of
special interests -- tax shelter promoters, oil and timber companies,
tax-avoiding defense contractors and
so on -- that fought to defeat the
So, despite his revisionist concern
about fiscal discipline in the 80's, Mr.
Cheney's record shows that he is
pretty much a big-deficit, tax-loophole-loving kind of guy. That, of
course, makes him an ideal running
mate for Gov. George W. Bush,
whose $1.9 trillion upper-income tax
cut plan would use up almost the
entire projected non-Social Security
surplus over the next decade -- even
before Mr. Bush gets to his various
expensive spending plans, from the
dubious missile defense system to
the voter-friendly drug coverage for
True, Mr. Bush touts the fact that
some of his proposed tax cuts would
go to low- and moderate-income
working families. Never mind that
only about 2 percent of those tax cuts
are so targeted, compared with 62
percent of the breaks that would go
to the best-off tenth of all taxpayers.
As Mr. Bush's running mate,
Mr. Cheney seems to
be trying to avoid the
that voters might see
in his congressional
votes. But Newt Gingrich was right to
note this week that when he and Mr.
Cheney served together in the House,
"Cheney's voting record was slightly
more conservative than mine."
Or put another way, if the choice is
between welfare for the rich and
opportunities for the needy, Dick
Cheney's record makes it pretty
clear where he stands. By choosing
him, Mr. Bush may have clarified his
own stance as well.
Robert S. McIntyre is director of Citizens for Tax Justice.
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company