The party of Ronald Reagan has devolved into the party of Lyndon Johnson, George McGovern, Henry Waxman, and Al Gore.
On spending, LBJ’s Great Society seems greater than ever. Washington Republicans’ Spend-O-Rama famously included 13,997 pork-barrel projects that lodged like baby-back ribs in last year’s appropriations bills. President Bush’s $92.2 billion request for Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina funding has expanded to $109 billion after Senate manhandling. It now features such germane adornments as $6 million for Hawaiian sugar growers and $1.1 billion for private fisheries. Another $700 million would redirect train tracks that CSX Corp. invested $250 million to rebuild after Katrina; a replacement roadway then would link condos to Mississippi casinos.
In one sliver of good news, fiscal watchdogs enacted rules that should pierce the earmark culture that has burgeoned under House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R., Calif.). That baby step aside, Congress still needs liposuction.
As Americans for Tax Reform estimates, Republican outlays between 2001 and 2006 have devoured the savings that a Democratic White House and GOP Congress generated last decade. In 1993, federal spending consumed 23.8 percent of national income, and then bottomed out at 20.6 percent in 2000. Six years later, that figure boomeranged to 23.8 percent. Absent the War on Terror, homeland security, and hurricane recovery, 80.1 percent of today’s spending propels old-fashioned, big government.
“How large does the Republican majority need to be before Republicans start acting like the responsible stewards of taxpayers’ money we thought we were electing?” asked American Conservative Union chairman David Keene.
These expenditures include surprisingly generous poverty outlays. “Everybody knows” that Republicans finance tax cuts for millionaires by slashing social programs. False! Republicans reduce taxes and replenish poverty payments. As Heritage Foundation analyst Brian Riedl calculates, GOP-approved poverty benefits swelled 39 percent between 2001 and 2005. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is the only major program trimmed, from $18.6 billion to $17.4 billion. Otherwise, housing spending is up 26 percent. Healthcare aid has grown 40 percent. Nutrition relief has risen 49 percent. Keystones of LBJ’s Great Society have prospered, such as food stamps: up 71 percent. Meanwhile, child tax credits exploded 1,389 percent. Overall, poverty expenses now represent 16.1 percent of the federal budget — a record.
Despite such largesse, Democrats invariably accuse Republicans of swindling the poor. So, Republicans might as well embrace their notoriety and reduce, restructure, and repeal these programs.
The least the GOP can do is stop creating new entitlements. The darkest hour for Washington Republicans was their creation of the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit. The GOP Congress approved and President Bush signed this measure in late 2003 to purchase elderly votes in the 2004 elections. So, what did it cost to bribe seniors into re-electing Bush?
“Overall, President Bush’s senior vote percentage increased from 47 percent in 2000, to 52 percent in 2004,” Heritage’s Riedl says. “This represents a gain of 976,000 votes.” The new benefit’s 75-year liability (or long-term “price tag,” for budget purposes) is $8.1 trillion. “We can calculate that politicians purchased seniors’ votes at a price of $8.3 million apiece,” Riedl reckons. “Not that it came out of their campaign accounts or personal funds, of course.”
On petrochemical policy, the GOP’s liberal-Democrat drag show puts the pedal to the metal.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.), flailing as gasoline sped past the $3.00-per-gallon mark, proposed to send motorists $100 gas rebates. This embarrassment recalled Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign pledge to hand every American a $1,000 “Demogrant.” Frist’s $100 checks lacked such sheer ambitiousness. They were small enough to enrage spend-happy Democrats and silly enough to embitter frugal Republicans. So, Frist slipped between the barstools and slammed flat on his fanny before abandoning this brainstorm.
Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.), lately the Laurel and Hardy of Capitol Hill, yanked a page from Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D., Calif.) playbook when they demanded an inquisition into alleged oil-company profiteering. Maybe the CEOs of Chevron, Exxon, and Texaco meet Fridays for rounds of golf and illegal price-fixing. Or perhaps energy costs have been rising like helium balloons due to a robust economy, international instability, EPA-mandated gasoline recipes, stalled refinery construction, restrictions on extracting oil (or even spill-proof natural gas!) virtually everywhere (especially one mosquito-bitten corner of the Arctic Circle), and even 54-cent-per-gallon tariffs on imports of ethanol — which manufacturers struggle to produce, pursuant to costly, new, federal rules requiring gasoline-ethanol blends. Why not conduct urgent yes-no votes to solve these problems? Will “pro-driver” Democrats support regulatory relief and fossil-fuel production, or will they reveal themselves as forest-green eco-freaks? If Senate Democrats feel like filibustering against ANWR drilling, let them.
Meanwhile, President Bush resembles Earth-hugger Al Gore as he proposes hiking automotive fuel-economy standards. This is just what GM needs while it breathes with a respirator. Drivers and passengers also might find it harder to avoid injury in lighter, thinner cars that remain energy-efficient while collapsing more thoroughly in head-on collisions.
“It’s an open question whether Republicans today would exercise greater fidelity to conservative principles as the minority rather than the majority,” said ACU’s David Keene. He’s not alone among aggravated right-wingers. An April 28-30 USA Today/Gallup survey of 1,011 adults found 38 percent of Republicans more enthused about voting now than before, compared to 46 percent who are less so. Among Democrats, 50 percent are more enthusiastic versus 37 percent who disagree. (Error margin: +/- 3 percent.) For Democrats, it’s starting to smell like … victory.
How tragic that Ronald Reagan’s GOP has become the political equivalent of 1,000 cases of non-alcoholic beer: Pricey and pointless.
– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.