August 22, 2005

Tapscott: Has the GOP Lost Its Soul?

Mark Tapscott has written a powerful editorial asking Has the GOP Lost Its Soul?

...Their differences [between President Reagan and Alaskan GOP Rep. Young] are nowhere more evident than on limiting government and reducing federal spending. Reagan said in his first inaugural speech that "government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." Today, Young crows about the $286.4 billion transportation bill to The New York Times, saying he "stuffed it like a turkey."

These differences didn’t start with Young, though. Republicans took over Congress in 1994 promising in the "Contract with America" to cut taxes, reduce federal spending and eliminate unneeded bureaucracy. They’ve used the same message to retain majorities in both chambers for all but a couple of the succeeding years.

Despite the GOP majority and its promises, federal spending – including wasteful pork barrel projects – has skyrocketed to record levels, especially as President Bush won the White House in 2000, the GOP kept the House and regained the Senate in 2002 and Bush gained re-election in 2004.

Federal outlays are going up so fast that in 2004 for the first time since World War II Washington spent more than $21,000 per household but collected only about $18,000 in revenue, causing budget deficits to explode. The rate of increase in spending was faster only during the "guns and butter" era of the Vietnam War and LBJ’s Great Society programs, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Simply put, the GOP majority has been spending federal tax dollars like drunken sailors since 2001, increasing outlays by an average of 7.25 percent annually. Inflation increased by a mere 2.0 percent average in those same years.

Bush has basically stepped aside, not once exercising his veto, compared to 78 vetoes by Reagan, who had to deal with powerful Democrat majorities in the House throughout his White House years.

Having a president who won't veto unleashes the big spenders. That transportation bill that Bush accepted and Young stuffed contained more than 6,500 "earmarks" – i.e. pork barrel projects. Reagan vetoed a 1987 transportation bill with a mere 152 projects.

The same stuffing pattern is seen in other legislation like the recently enacted energy bill that is "chock-full of corporate subsidies, targeted tax breaks, and other special interest handouts," according to Citizens Against Government Waste. Since 2003, the overall earmarks total has zoomed from 8,341 to nearly 14,000, the group recently told The Washington Post.

As for limiting government, the federal establishment is as complicated, duplicative and inefficient as ever, despite more than a decade of GOP majorities in Congress and several years of GOP control of both the White House and Congress....

Most worrisome about this GOP addiction to pork is that it undermines the party’s credibility as the entitlements crisis caused by the retirement of the Baby Boomers draws ever closer.

Medicare has nearly $30 trillion in unfounded mandates. Social Security faces annual deficits in excess of $100 billion beginning sometime around 2018. Add government employee pension obligations and those assumed from Fortune 500 corporations by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Commission and there will be no alternative to steeply higher taxes and major benefit cuts. Social, economic and financial chaos will follow, just as Reagan predicted in 1981.

Reagan expressed the GOP’s soul when he said "it is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people." Progress was slow and sometimes reversed, but Reagan kept up the pressure.

Reagan’s GOP heirs are wasting his legacy.

This behavior by President Bush and the entire GOP Congress is scandalous. It is irresponsible and has adverse long-term consequences. It represents a complete breakdown in leadership.

These problems are not new to Anchor Rising. Here are some past postings on the general topic:

Favors for Everyone Except the Taxpaying Masses
Corporate Welfare Queens: Destructive Parasites Which Deserve to Die
The Highway Bill: "Egregious and Remarkable"
The Highway Bill: Another Example of Unacceptable Government Spending
Pigs at the Public Trough
More on the Misguided Incentives in the Public Sector
Pigs at the Public Trough, Revisited

A brief look at why these problems develop in the first place can be found in a posting entitled Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation.

A more comprehensive look at why these problems develop in the first place can be found in a posting entitled A Call to Action: Responding to Government Being Neither Well-Meaning Nor Focused on the Public Interest.