There probably is not one major federal program that could not be cut without doing harm to the national interest.
The other part of Yglesias’s argument is that the federal government is the only entity with the financial clout to quickly rebuild infrastructure damaged by hurricanes, floods, and the like. This is the old Rachel Maddow Hoover Dam argument, and it’s no more persuasive in print than on cable. States have access to the credit markets, and they sell bonds to finance infrastructure projects all the time. California raises money with infrastructure bonds so quickly that it can’t spend all the cash, which puts the Golden State in the weird position of being a cash-strapped spendthrift with a big pile of money sitting around doing nothing but costing money.
Part of the argument for pushing programs down to the state and local levels is that you want the money to be spent by the people who have to live with the consequences most directly. Conservatives should be realistic about the down sides of that kind of federalism — even a concentrated dose of Bobby Jindal is not going to mean that Louisiana is no longer Louisiana — but it is not as though the incompetence and corruption that marks many state and local governments will somehow be transformed into an indestructible alloy of virtue and efficiency when ramped up to the national level. Because Louisiana sends people to Congress, too.
States and municipalities have much stronger incentives than do federal agencies to structure fees and taxes in such a way that connects risk to revenue, e.g. by charging higher fees for developers and residents in flood plains or hurricane-prone coastal areas. The federal government’s track record on this is not very good.
The presence of a hurricane is no argument against reforming incontinent federal spending. There is another storm on the horizon, a Category 5 fiscal hurricane that is going to require a lot more than sandbags and linemen crews if we are to bail out way out after it crashes into Washington. We don’t have a bucket that big.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent and the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.