How are we going to pay for it?

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Back in the '50s and '60s in the House of Representatives, there was an irascible conservative Republican from Iowa named Rep. H.R. Gross.

Gross enjoyed being a cantankerous, even obnoxious figure, to the majority Democrats and even to the moderate Republicans. As my colleague David Broder of the Washington Post and I agree: "He was a real pain in the ass."

At that time, with Democrats routinely spending overbudget, Gross would always be stationed in the well of the House and chanting loudly, "How are we going to pay for it?" The rantings of Gross, a newspaper publisher from Waterloo, were usually greeted with laughter. No one took him seriously, even many of his fellow Republicans.

"That's just old H.R. letting off steam," I recall a Texas Democrat telling me when Gross was on his regular tears to halt spending for any cause if he thought it wasteful. He would introduce amendments out of order, challenge speakers to defend their spending requests, or do anything to make a pest of himself.

In those days, the majority Democrats were the big spenders. Traditional Republicans were opposed to deficits then, even agreeing from time to time with Gross that Congress was merely passing massive debt to future taxpayers.

How times have changed.

Too bad that cranky H.R. Gross isn't still around. Surely he would attack the Bush administration and fellow Republicans for their profligate ways.

The president and his cohorts are spending huge sums to fight a war in faraway lands while cutting taxes at home and bidding for even more cuts. At the same time, Bush talks about controlling spending or threatening vetoes at home, zeroing in on domestic programs favored by Democrats.

There is no call for sacrifice. Any hint of raising taxes to finance the war is met with screams of protest that advocates want to harm the economy. Nonsense.

The truth hurts. The federal deficit grows daily, and the administration and its allies wink at it. The federal deficit is now about $300 billion. The attitude is not to worry about today and let unborn generations pay for it.

Somewhere I can hear old H.R. Gross shaking his head and complaining: "How are we going to pay for it?"