TIn Crash, Hollywood’s finest movie so far this year, Terrence Howard plays a prosperous black filmmaker who tells a black gangbanger (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges): “You embarrass me. You embarrass yourself.”
As a Republican, I say to the even more rapacious GOP Congressional leadership: “You embarrass me. You embarrass yourselves.”
Not long ago, the Republican Congress at least pretended to be serious about keeping federal spending plausibly sane. While they hurled massive expenditures in every direction, at least their rhetoric honored the grassroots-Republican expectation that they would respect taxpayers’ money.
But, save for a band of fiscally responsible backbenchers (about whom more soon), profligate congressional Republicans have surrendered on this front. Their leaders no longer try to restrain spending, nor do they even say the right things about stewarding tax dollars.
As the House of Representatives approved $62.3 billion in universally applauded assistance to Hurricane Katrina’s survivors, fiscal conservatives attempted to reduce other spending. House leaders rebuffed their amendment.
“My answer to those who want to offset the spending is sure, bring the offsets,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Tex.) told reporters September 13. “But nobody has been able to come up with any yet.” Asked if Washington operated at top efficiency, DeLay made free-market jaws drop when he said: “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority, we’ve pared it down pretty good.”
That’s right. And Elvis died of anorexia.
Since the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, domestic discretionary spending has grown from $259 billion to $466 billion, an annual average of 5.5 percent, Cato Institute scholar Stephen Slivinski calculates. Under President Bush, this figure has accelerated 8 percent per annum, on average, far ahead of inflation.
On President Clinton’s watch, the 1998 highway bill groaned under some 1,850 pork-barrel items. The 2005 highway bill, written and signed by Republicans, virtually suffocated beneath 6,371 fishy projects (including $2.5 million for the Blue Ridge Music Center), a 244-percent increase in fiduciary recklessness. This year’s federal budget, Citizens Against Government Waste reports, featured 13,997 pork-barrel items, 31 percent more than in last year’s spending plan!
Consider the disgraceful $223 million bridge between Ketchikan, Alaska, and Gravina Island–Population: 50. This equals $4.46 million per capita. Obscene? This is fiscal pornography. $223 million very generously could grant 892 storm-swept families $250,000 to rebuild or relocate.
Asked to respond to critics who have urged him to reallocate this notorious bridge’s budget to Katrina’s victims, GOP Congressman Don Young, chairman of the 75-member House Transportation Committee, said: “They can kiss my ear!” He added: “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” He also explained that Louisiana already received substantial money in the highway bill and that he helped generate $500,000 in Katrina relief at “the Seafood Invitational,” a Roslyn, Washington golf tournament. “I raised enough money to give back to them voluntarily,” Young said, “and that’s it!”
The highway bill, Fareed Zakaria writes, “is called the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or TEA-LU (in honor of chairman Don Young’s wife, Lu). This use of public office for private whims would seem more appropriate in Saudi Arabia than America. Perhaps next year’s bill will include a necklace for Mrs. Young.”
Citizens Against Government Waste named congressmen DeLay and Young Co-Porkers of the Month for September 2005. As a CAGW statement put it: “Rep. DeLay’s and Rep. Young’s comments will confirm what taxpayers already think about the lack of leadership to cut wasteful programs in the Republican-led Congress, which has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since the Great Society.”
On spending, the Republican Congress routinely exhibits the maturity and self-restraint of infants screaming for their pacifiers. From $1.4 million for the Ted Stevens International Airport (named after Alaska’s Republican senior senator) to $50 million for a 4.5-acre, 20-story-high, indoor rainforest in Coralville, Iowa championed by Senator Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), no program is too extravagant or exotic to be left behind. Appropriations are limited only by legislators’ imaginations and their brazen disregard for the commonweal.
Members of Congress also have engineered automatic pay increases for themselves every January 1 since 2000, ranging between $3,400 and $4,900. As Roll Call explains, “A seventh consecutive increase will push rank-and-file congressional salaries from today’s $162,100 to $165,200 in January 2006.” Do you receive a pay hike every New Year’s Day?
For its part, the GOP-supervised bureaucracy resembles Luciano Pavarotti inhaling a chocolate sundae.
According to columnist Robert Novak, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R., Ok.), a fiscal hawk, discovered that shoddy accounting generated $41.5 billion in federal overpayments.
At NASA, the sky’s the limit. It just unveiled a $104 billion plan to return to the Moon in the six-astronaut Crew Exploratory Vehicle. “Think of it as Apollo on steroids,” NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said September 19. “You can do anything.” This is atop Bush’s desire to send Americans to Mars.
Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and president of the New Voters Alliance, says a huge part of the problem is that “about 15 percent of Congress leads on free-market issues, about 15 percent lead some committees, try to protect their sandbox, and send some pork back home to get reelected, and the other 70 percent are just happy to be there.” This bipartisan caucus of good-time Charlies and Charlottes supports each other’s idiotic spending schemes, with the GOP leadership as the grand marshals of the parade.
Adults in the Room
The heroes of this tawdry tale are the 110 members of the House Republican Study Committee. Led by chairman Mike Pence (R., Ind.), the RSC on Wednesday unveiled “Operation Offset,” an initiative to cut federal spending to cover relief for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and soon, Rita). Assisted by fiscal watchdogs Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), Jeb Hensarling (R., Tex.), and other stalwarts, the RSC proposed 122 ideas to save taxpayers $102 billion next year, $369.9 billion through 2010, and $929 billion through 2015. These include delaying the new, universal Medicare prescription-drug benefit (it should be slashed and focused exclusively on low-income seniors who lack drug insurance), ditching highway pork projects, and dumping corporate and farm welfare programs.
“We’re anticipating growing enthusiasm of the American people for offsetting these costs and sharpening our pencils…to find these cuts,” Pence told a Capitol Hill press conference.
Reaganites like Jeff Flake, Mike Pence, and Tom Coburn should constitute the congressional leadership. Tom DeLay, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.), and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) are spending money at a pace that eclipses Democratic congresses. And, maddeningly, President Bush recoils from his veto pen like a vampire running from garlic. A dash of adult supervision could restrain his party’s juvenile delinquency. Alas, Bush naps upstairs while the kids trash the living room.
“Operation Offset” and the true believers behind it are the honorable exception. But as a rule, Washington’s GOP leadership is a collective embarrassment to the party of Lincoln and the republic he preserved.
–Deroy Murdock, a veteran of the 1980 and 1984 Reagan for President campaigns, is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.