Party of Smaller Government Is Gone Forever
No Money Left Behind!
The Party of Smaller Government Is Gone Forever
[August 5, 2004 evote.com] The upcoming presidential election this November has two ironic twists that few, if any, predicted in 2000: that some fiscal conservatives or Republicans may either switch over and pull the lever for monetarily liberal Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts or stay home and not vote at all. Why? Because Republican President George W. Bush has allowed spending and the size of government to swell up like a threatened blowfish. He is on the cusp of becoming the first president since John Quincy Adams of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the 1820s, to go a full term without vetoing a single bill.
And this leads to the other irony—that some fiscal liberals or Democrats may either switch over and pull the lever for Bush or not vote at all because they are somewhat satisfied with the President’s support for increasing the size of government programs and spending.
Call Bush the “No Money Left Behind” president. His nickname could be “Ted Kennedy drunk on gasoline.” His theme song should be, “Hey, Big Spender.” Obviously his State of the Union talk of banning steroids for athletes did not refer to the government. Bush number two probably advocates the highest level of spending by any Republican president in U.S. history. Indeed, his support of big government may be more than some recent Democratic presidents, such as President John F. Kennedy of Taxachusetts.
And remember, spending that is not paid for now is a guaranteed tax increase later. So to call Bush a tax raiser, and not a tax reducer, would be accurate, regardless of his previous tax cutting efforts.
Biggest Federal Outlays
President Blowfish says that spending and government have swelled because America has been threatened, that the money is going into security and war. Well, in part it is, but there is a ton of new spending encouraged by Bush in areas that have nothing to do with war and terrorism.
According to the government’s fiscal year 2005 budget, total federal outlays will rise 29 percent between fiscal years 2001 and 2005. Real discretionary spending increases in 2002, 2003 and 2004 are three of the five biggest annual increases in the last 40 years. Federal spending is upwards of $20,000 per household.
The ostensible balanced budget of the 1990s is gone. So is the supposed surplus the President started his administration with. Enhanced by Bush’s tax cut and a weaker economy resulting in lower tax receipts, the U.S. Treasury recently announced the federal debt subject to congressional limits has for the first time surpassed $7 trillion. Estimates for the annual budget deficits for the next few years are between $15 and $70 billion.
And this deficit occurred despite net interest costs plummeting by $110 billion from 1998 through 2003.
Granted; military spending has increased with the war on terror, but the “compassionate conservative” Bush has made little effort to restrain non-defense spending to offset the higher Pentagon budget, such as on education with the No Child Left Behind Act, an upwards of $400 billion Medicare bill (the largest new entitlement program in 40 years) and farm subsidies. Non-defense discretionary outlays will increase about 36 percent during his first term.
The military, the terrorist attacks and homeland security accounted for less than half of all new spending from 2001 through to 2003. During this period the federal budget expanded by $300 billion.
In early 2001 Bush described his attitude towards deficits: "Unrestrained government spending is a dangerous road to deficits, so we must take a different path. The other choice is to let the American people spend their own money to meet their own needs, to fund their own priorities and pay down their own debts.”
"I hope you will join me," he said, "and stand firmly on the side of the people."
A Useless Bridge for
Porky Pig, Courtesy of Congress
The Congressional practice of dipping into the public trough to finance projects that benefit only a single legislator is so firmly established that it has not been expunged despite Congress being controlled by the “party of smaller government.”
Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska may soon have two bridges to nowhere. Both bridges are part of the national highway bill recently approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Young is chairman of. One will connect the depressed town of Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska with an island one mile away. The island has 50 residents and a small airport. The other bridge, two miles long, will connect Anchorage with a small port that has one regular tenant. That is one person living alone without a roommate, although this resident may live with a dog or cat, we don’t know.
The total cost of the two bridges is estimated at $2.2 billion. They make no sense in transportation terms - the Ketchikan ferry is satisfactory. And while the projects would create hundreds of temporary construction jobs, it is hard to imagine any lasting economic benefits. It might be cheaper just to pay everybody several years' salary.
The bill also includes $3.5 million for horse trails in Virginia and $1.5 million for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. In other words, minimum wage earners in Alabama would be required to help pay other states for things they will never use or get any benefit from.
Another ridiculous item signed into law last January includes $500,000 for a program to study how Congress makes budget decisions. Couldn’t the politicians just ask themselves?
Perfect Position to
Reduce Spending Thrown Away
Not a single department, major agency or big government program has been dismantled since Bush took office. Indeed, they have added one; the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans are ironically to blame for today’s huge budget deficits and spending increases, as they ostensibly control both houses of Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures and head the Federal committees. The GOP mostly sets the agenda and steers the American ship.
So just when the GOP became perfectly positioned in 2000 to go on a diet and reduce the size of government, which they have been arguing in support of for years, they instead decided to gorge themselves on higher spending. Gone are the days when former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who wrote so much of the Contract With America, and erstwhile Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, would insist to colleagues and the country that government must remain small.
And GOP members today rarely, if ever, mention principles of devolution, a movement spurred by Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolution in the 1990s. It was called the “Devolution Revolution.” Indeed, Gingrich once announced it would be a top priority and President Bill Clinton pledged his support for the idea. It argues that Federal power should return to the states, that we have abandoned America’s original concept of state’s rights. One example is for the Federal government to fund states by block grants in fixed amounts of cash free of regulation to use as they wish, instead of telling them exactly how they must spend the money. Gone are the days of a few years ago that fiscal conservatives and Republicans were sometimes supportive of devolutionary or Libertarian ideas such as block grants as a means to create more government efficiency and lower taxes. It would allow states to more freely adapt national programs to local circumstances.
And in a new tone for 2004, fiscal liberals such as Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and erstwhile Labor Secretary Robert Reich now complain of budget deficits, an issue just a few years ago pontificated mostly by Republicans or fiscal conservatives. Concern about the deficit was particularly evident among Democrats, 57 percent of whom identified it in a Pew poll as a priority issue, versus 44 percent of Republicans.
A striking NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll recently found that Democrats had nearly caught up with Republicans on the question of which party does a better job of controlling government spending. The poll found that 33 percent of respondents said Republicans did a better job, with Democrats at 31 percent. For most of the 20th century, Americans considered the GOP significantly better than the Democrats at controlling government spending, a huge change in perception.
So in response to Democratic and fiscally conservative Republican complaints, Bush is now urging congress to set a course of reducing the federal debt by one-half within five years.
David Boaz, Executive Vice President of Washington, D.C.’s Cato Institute, tells EVOTE.COM the higher spending by the Republicans today is a result of their electoral success in controlling Congress and the presidency. “Partisan gridlock is the reason for the fiscal restraint under Clinton.”
Once the government was unified, the Republicans “found it easier to spend money on government programs because they could agree on what to spend money on. More bills get passed and more programs appropriated because they are all in the same party. The recent spending explosion under the unified Republican government is the fastest since the time of 1960s Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Now that we can look back, there would be less spending with Clinton and a Republican Congress than there is with Bush and a Republican Congress. Bush is a big government conservative. He is a fiscal liberal.”
“In a democracy, it is always attractive to hand out money,” says Boaz. “It is the way to get elected.”
"At this point, I think that conservatives sold out their small government philosophy and replaced it with a philosophy of whatever will get them re-elected," said Brian M. Riedl, a budget analyst at Washington D.C.’s The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization. "Neither party is committed to smaller government and less spending. Those who are still standing for fiscal conservatism are frustrated."
Some analysts have argued the increased spending by the GOP is an indication the whole country, including fiscally conservative strongholds, is moving to the left monetarily. Another reason for the increased spending is the ostensible elimination of the budget deficit in 1998. That year brought a supposed surplus which eliminated one of the most effective arguments for spending restraint.
The Goldwater Factor
But the GOP for decades has been the party of lower taxes and small government—or at least that is what their rhetoric has been telling us. During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Republican President Herbert Hoover’s response in part to the economic freefall was to limit spending and the deficit. This in contrast to Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, where spending, deficits and the size of government programs significantly increased after his 1933 inauguration. (The depression finally ended during World War II in the early 1940s.)
Then during the Republican presidential primaries of 1964, when Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater pulled control of the party from its northeast wing, the GOP rhetoric of smaller government, deregulation and lower taxes became louder, as he was a staunch supporter of individual freedom, including the people’s right to keep their own money. Goldwater has said that smaller government is better government. This period was the start of the era of a rising percentage of Americans who provided conservative answers to pollsters.
Goldwater left a strong political legacy. He is credited by many for remaking the Republican Party and setting it on the conservative course that brought Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush to power many years later.
Democratic presidents may have been affected by Goldwater’s philosophy too. President Jimmy Carter advocated deregulation for the airline, trucking and railroad industries. In 1978 there was also a capital gains tax cut. And in 1996 Democratic President Bill Clinton famously declared “the era of big government is over,” after his and his wife’s attempts for universal health care exploded on take off.
But after Goldwater’s political eclipse in the 1960s, even with his significant influence supporting smaller government, public agencies have never stopped growing in size and number with both Republican and Democratic presidents. But starting in 1980 Ronald Reagan was twice elected overwhelmingly on a deregulation and strong limited tax and spending approach (except the military), curbing non-military government’s growth. It was a continuation of what Carter began and invigorated Goldwater’s philosophy. Reagan used to say the government should get off the people’s backs.
Some Republicans Note
the Spending Spree
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, complained earlier this year that Congress was spending money like "drunken sailors," a remark that drew considerable media attention.
Riedl has said fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill are "searching for ways to stop the spending spree.”
Representative Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota, a member of the Republican Study Committee, a group of 96 House members committed to fiscal conservatism, has said, "There is a growing frustration within the House caucus, and it's palpable, of members' saying, 'We can't continue to call ourselves fiscal conservatives with big deficits and growing entitlements.’ I think the events surrounding Sept. 11 and other international events clouded our vision, but I think those clouds are starting to clear."
Republican Congressman and RSC Chairman Sue Myrick of North Carolina told the New York Times, “We've put up with this spending, very frankly, for the last few years and none of us feel very good about it. It's very difficult when you have a president of your same party, if they aren't as fiscally conservative as you would like them to be."
“We are very concerned about spending,” Andy Polk, a spokesman for Myrick, tells EVOTE.COM.
Despite Myrick’s supposed determination to lower taxes and reduce spending, she still voted for the Medicare bill. She also trumpets on her web site increased spending within her own neighborhood, as does John McCain.
And there lies a problem for American government—everyone says they want to lower taxes and smaller government—except when it comes to spending for their own pet projects.
Polk refused to say whether Myrick would consider today’s Republicans or Bush fiscal liberals. He also said he does not know why the G.O.P. is spending more these days, but he expects a spending freeze in the 2005 budget, which Myrick supports.
Putting the Brakes On
Several ideas to reduce taxes have recently been proposed. Last fall, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, introduced the Family Budget Protection Act, which would make Congress meet budget targets to end the federal deficit in five years. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (not the sex party Ryan) seeks to reform the government's accounting practices to provide a better description of federal spending.
"It's safe to say that there is tremendous dissatisfaction and a kind of dawning on people that Bush is not interested in smaller government," Cato’s President Edward H. Crane has said. He blames the President for the "philosophical collapse of the GOP."
The dissatisfaction has been echoed by conservative researchers and commentators who support Mr. Bush on most issues. Among them are the Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth, a Washington D.C.-based political action committee and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.
"The president used the State of the Union to defend past spending increases, and he made eight specific calls for new spending increases," Riedl has said. "But he made zero calls for spending cuts. He merely said focus on priorities, cut wasteful spending and be wise with the people's money. That's not specific enough."
During Bush’s election campaign in 2000, he did not call for the deregulating abolishment of the Department of Education, as 1996 Republican presidential candidate and party nominee, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas and Gingrich had. Bush would instead urge imposing standards and accountability on the nation’s public schools, as the DOE further became an instrument of reform. He also did not call for a single spending reduction. Even Democratic candidates often find at least one government agency wasteful. Bush’s election was in part a repudiation of Newt Gingrich’s legacy of smaller government and the Republican Revolution of the mid 1990s.
Candidate John Kerry, for three decades a devout follower of the Government Knows Best Philosophy for non-military programs, has negatively criticized Bush’s spending habits too.
"In public, this president professes to be a fiscal conservative," Roger Altman, who was deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton administration and is an economic adviser to Mr. Kerry, has said recently. "But in truth, he has pushed $6 trillion in new spending without ever paying for a penny of it. That's reckless, and it's the American people who will pay in the end."
Spend Spend Spend From
Federal to State Budgets Controlled by the GOP
Evidence of higher spending can also be found in GOP controlled state legislatures and their Republican governors, who are spending more than the Democratically-controlled states.
According to a few well-done heavily researched articles by Dennis Cauchon of USA Today, “spending rose faster in Republican-controlled legislatures (6.85%) than Democratic ones (6.79%) from 1997 to 2002. Republican legislatures working with Republican governors were the biggest spenders.” Taxpayers usually benefited when the legislative majority and the governor were of separate parties.
Cauchon goes on to state, “Squeezed by tight budgets, Republicans in at least a dozen state legislatures across the country are feuding over the party's bedrock principles of holding down spending and not raising taxes. From Virginia to California, fiscal conservatives complain that many Republican lawmakers have developed the same tax-and-spend habits the party generally opposes.”
In Ohio, for example, where Republicans control the legislature and all statewide offices, “Last year, Republican Gov. Bob Taft and the Legislature raised the state sales tax from 5% to 6% and imposed it on services such as manicures, satellite television and taxi rides,” continued Cauchon. “It was the biggest tax increase in Ohio history.”
Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a former state treasurer and Cincinnati mayor, says Republicans are "in the same tax-and-spend-and-get-elected cycle as Democrats,” writes Cauchon. “It's hard to break."
”Idaho's Republican-controlled Legislature struggled for 118 days last year --the longest session in state history -- before raising the sales tax from 5% to 6%,” states Cauchon. ”Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho has advocated an even bigger tax hike to preserve funding for schools and other services.”
He also writes, “’It didn't used to be hard for Republicans to oppose new taxes, but, boy, it sure has been the last couple of years,’ says Idaho state Rep. Dolores Crow, the Republican chairwoman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. ‘It's a sign of the times.’”
And at one point recently, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts advocated a larger budget than the state legislature, a body almost completely dominated by Democrats.
In a 1960 book written by C. Northcote Parkinson, “The Law and the Profits,” the author states that bureaucracies, private and public, will tend to find ways to spend pretty much whatever money comes in. They do not build their annual budgets from the ground up, but rather figure out how much money they need without working too hard, then work in reverse to justify that level as “essential” to meet the institutions need. This problem is exaggerated with public agencies because there is no search for profit and few competitive pressures to stifle the natural appetite for spending.
So with the Republicans spending like Democrats, it might be possible that the only party left committed to smaller government can’t get itself elected. (That would be the Libertarians and their presidential candidate Michael Badnarik of Texas.)
[John Pike is a veteran journalist based in Boston. He has been a guest commentator on many radio stations and his articles have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers and web sites, including the Boston Globe, Reason Magazine, Insight Magazine, Access Magazine and the Associated Press. He no longer has any idea which major party supports smaller government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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