Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, sounds like a reasonable guy when he says that Republicans aren’t against extended unemployment benefits, but merely want them offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. In some circles, that’s the very definition of moderation: I’ll go along with your program, but you have to find the savings.
Don’t buy it.
Republicans, perhaps because of their party’s evangelical wing, understand what it means to be born again — and they’re out to convince Americans that they are born-again debt crusaders, ready to rumble in the holy struggle for smaller deficits and less-unbalanced budgets. This takes a little bit of chutzpah. Here’s McConnell: “The American people don’t think our problem is that government taxes too little. Our problem is that government taxes too much. And that it spends too much and borrows too much. And until Democrats demonstrate even the slightest ability to restrain the recklessness with which they spend Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars, the job creators and the workers of this country aren’t about to take them seriously on how to lower the debt. The American people shouldn’t be asked to pay the price for Democrats’ recklessness through higher taxes.” Until Democrats demonstrate the slightest ability to restrain their recklessness? Fair enough, but let me refresh Senator McConnell’s memory:
Check out the spending under your guys, Senator McConnell. Notice how it doesn’t go down? This is why nobody trusts Republicans on spending: because Republicans have not earned anybody’s trust.
If you want to see just how befuddled Republicans are when it comes to this issue, look no further than Senator John Cornyn’s performance on Meet the Press opposite David Gregory this weekend. Gregory asks the same question I ask every time I interview a Republican bigwig: “What does distinguish the Republican party of today from the Republican party under President Bush’s rule, with regards to spending.” Cornyn’s answer was, basically, “Uhhhhh — hey, look, something shiny!” But let’s hear from the senator in his own words: “Well, I think what people are looking for, David, are checks and balances. They’ve had single-party government and it’s scaring the living daylights out of them, and it’s keeping job creators on the sidelines rather than investing and creating jobs. That’s why the private sector isn’t creating jobs.” This is politician for, “The dog ate my homework.” Yes, there is some uncertainty about the political environment, and that surely is affecting investing and hiring decisions. You know what else is affecting those decisions? A couple of trillion dollars’ worth of devalued capital in the form of collapsed real-estate values and a crippled banking system that Congress has decided to prop up rather than allow it to be sorted out by the ruthless Darwinian forces of the market.
But what about those unemployment benefits? The Republicans say they want to extend them but pay for doing so by cutting other spending. Unfortunately, the “other spending” they plan to cut is stimulus funds that have been theoretically appropriated but not spent — i.e., they’re “saving” money by not spending money we might not have been spending, anyway. It’s like a broke guy saying: “Yeah, I was planning on buying a new Ferrari, but then I changed my mind. What should I do with the $250,000 I saved myself?”
Not good enough.
Because I am a public-minded guy, I’m going to help the senators out here. If you cruise over to Mitch McConnel’s website and click on “Issues,” there is an issue that is conspicuously missing: spending. He talks about spending night and day, castigates the Democrats for their spendthrift ways, says he wants spending cuts. But, here’s the Entire Universe of Issues according to Mitch McConnell:
1. Financial Regulation
2. Economic Growth
3. Health Care Reform
4. War on Terror
6. FY 2011 Appropriations Requests
Or, as I like to put it:
1. New spending on babysitting bankers
2. New spending on special-interest projects
3. New spending on oldsters who might vote for Mitch McConnell
4. New spending on bombing Afghanistan until it turns into Connecticut
5. New spending on Kentucky coal products
6. New spending on things Mitch McConnell is keen on
There is no category for “Spending Cuts,” or “Balancing the Budget,” or “Ceasing to Basically Haul the Nation’s Entire Stock of Diminishing Assets Down to the Local Pawn Shop and See If We Can Get Enough for a Forty.” But . . . FY2011 Appropriations Requests. Now, there’s something a politician can get to cackling about.
As you might guess, those appropriations requests are more densely packed with pork than a can of Spam — Kentucky-fried pork, of course. Seems the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant needs $116 million of your money. The Forage Animal Production Unit needs $4 million. The biofuel lobby needs a million dollars to be routed to it through the University of Kentucky. Hopkinsville has a narcotics taskforce with its hand out. Raytheon wants $12 million to put lasers on 20mm Gatling guns in Louisville — which at least sounds kind of awesome, but President Obama thinks they can do it with $6 million instead of $12 million. Somebody wants to buy something called Fern Lake and make a park out of it, but they want you to pay for it — $1.2 million. No, there’s no tab for “Cutting Spending,” but if you add up all the stuff that Senator McConnell lists under FH2011 Appropriations Requests, you come up with just about $600 million. That’s a lot of cash — and that’s just the special-interest stuff he’s advertising on his website, not the big-ticket items. So, let’s do some English-major math here: $600 million in feel-good spending multiplied by 100 U.S. senators equals . . . $60 billion, almost enough to pay for those unemployment benefits Senator McConnell is so keen to fight over — twice.
Now, I think every household in America should have a Raytheon laser Gatling gun on its rooftop, right next to the Democrat-subsidized solar panels. In fact, a Raytheon laser cannon that runs on solar panels sounds like an awesome bipartisan project, and I want one. But we can’t afford it. You want to cut spending, Senator McConnell? Ask an intern to print out that list from your website, and take a deep breath.
– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review.