Politics & Policy

The Case for Petty Partisanship

Senate Minority Leader Schumer speaks at a rally on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2017. (Reuters photo: Aaron P. Bernstein)
Is the GOP ready to finally ‘defund the Left’?

There is a case for bipartisanship, but it is not the one you usually hear.

Bipartisanship is desirable not because the best course is likely to be found at the midpoint between two extremes: The man who drinks to excess every day is a drunk, and so is the man who does so every other day. There is no compromise between fidelity and infidelity. When presented with a good idea and a bad one, there is no point in being a little bit stupid for the sake of compromise.

No, bipartisanship and compromise are worth pursuing as a means of achieving stability and predictability in policy. It matters less whether the tax rate on long-term capital gains is 15 percent or 18 percent than it does that investors know it isn’t going to change every two years. Compromise is good because broad political buy-in is necessary to predictable government.

But that has its limit, and Senator Chuck Schumer has reached it.

Senator Schumer has announced that he intends to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. There is no substantive case against Gorsuch, who is well qualified for the position and held in generally high regard — including by Democrats. In 2006 he was confirmed unanimously to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. His most controversial position is that judges should stick to the law.

Senator Schumer is doing the Republicans a favor without intending to: He is giving them a perfectly legitimate reason to suspend the filibuster. Republicans should do so — and not only for the purpose of moving forward the Gorsuch nomination.

Undivided government is not going to last forever. It never does, and, with a mercurial president and a Republican caucus caught between needful but unpopular conservative reforms and the realities of electoral politics, it may not last very long at all. Best to make the most of it, and take the opportunity to hit Schumer et al. where it hurts: In the bank account.

Among the many criticisms of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is that they are basically full-employment programs for Democratic hacks and activists. They should be eliminated entirely — cutting their funding is not enough, because funding can be restored in the future. Also on the chopping block: AmeriCorps, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, the Legal Services Corporation, and the Title X Family Planning Program, which is essentially a federal allowance for Planned Parenthood.

Among the many criticisms of the NEA, the NEH, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is that they are basically full-employment programs for Democratic hacks and activists.

Congress should also target grants and other federal funding directed to political organizations. For example: La Raza, through its banking operations (of course it has banking operations!) has received millions of dollars in federal subsidies. While the federal government probably cannot adopt a general prohibition on nonprofit organizations that receive federal funding from lobbying and electioneering with their own money (this would violate the First Amendment), the comptroller general has found routine violations of existing laws against using federal funds for political advocacy and lobbying activities. There is in fact a federal criminal law against using federal appropriations to underwrite lobbying. You will not be surprised to learn that this law — which has been on the books for nearly a century — apparently never has been enforced. “The exact parameters of this law, adopted in 1919, are not precisely known,” writes the Congressional Research Service, “as there appears never to have been an enforcement action or indictment returned based on the provision.” Time to tighten that up.

Congress should also adopt a general prohibition on distributing federal settlement funds to nonprofit organizations. Billions of dollars in federal settlements have been directed to “non-victim entities” such as the Urban League and La Raza, which are fundamentally political organizations. If Republicans cannot bring themselves to act out of prudence and principle, then they at least ought to have a sense of self-preservation sufficient to stop funding campaigns against themselves.

The Left has a weakness: It is dependent upon government money. It has long accepted that arrangement complacently, on the theory that its friends will generally control the government, if not always at the elected level then at the administrative and bureaucratic level. (The Left has not been wrong about that.) According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 17 percent of all federal outlays take the form of assistance to state and local governments — funds that in turn account for about a quarter of all state and local government spending. A fair portion of that money ends up simply passing through to nonprofits and politically connected contractors who provide dubious “outreach” and “development” services. If Republicans are looking for a little leverage over New York, there it is.

And when they get around to tax reform, Republicans also should eliminate the deductibility of state and local taxes against federal taxes. The GOP can finally say it is for a tax increase on the rich — so what if it’s mainly rich Democrats in Connecticut and New York?

“Defund the Left!” has been a conservative battle cry for some time, but one that has produced relatively little in the way of results. But Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have made it abundantly clear that the Democrats simply do not intend to act as partners in government. It may be that this is the Republicans’ best opportunity to leave them with a permanently diminished base — financially and, hence, politically.

Now is the time for a little petty partisanship in the public interest.

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