April 14, 2006

The Unprincipled and Politically Tone Deaf Congressional Republicans

A Wall Street Journal article entitled The Minority Maker: The clever GOP strategy for defeat in November provides yet another example of how the Congressional Republicans are hopelessly out-of-touch with economic and political realities:

If Republicans lose control of Congress in November, they might want to look back at last Thursday as the day it was lost. That's when the big spenders among House Republicans blew up a deal between the leadership and rank-in-file to impose some modest spending discipline.

Unlike the collapse of the immigration bill, this fiasco can't be blamed on Senate Democrats. This one is all about Republicans and their refusal to give up their power to spend money at will and pass out "earmarks" like a bartender offering drinks on the house. The chief culprits are the House Appropriators, led by Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis of California and his 13 subcommittee chairmen known as "cardinals." If Republicans lose the House--and they are well on their way--Mr. Lewis deserves the moniker of the minority maker.

For weeks, the Republican Study Committee, a group of fiscally conservative Members, had been negotiating a spending outline with the House leadership. But when they finally struck a deal last week, Mr. Lewis refused to go along and threatened to defeat the budget on the House floor if Speaker Denny Hastert brought it up. With Democrats opposing the budget as a matter of party unity, GOP leaders gave up and left town for Easter recess without a vote on their budget blueprint for 2007.

Political hardball isn't new to Congress, but what's especially notable here is the utter cluelessness by Mr. Lewis and his friends about how much trouble they're in and how to get out of it. The rank-and-file Members who haven't yet gone native in Washington realize that their biggest problem is the disappointment of Republican voters at Congress's free-spending ways. If those voters stay home in November, Mr. Lewis will soon be known as Mr. Ranking Member…

…he's hunkered down as one of the GOP's spenders-in-chief, presiding over multiplying earmarks and chopping to bits the party's reputation as fiscal conservatives. When President Bush recently asked Congress to pass a modified line-item veto, among the first to complain was Mr. Lewis. The spending baron told the Rules Committee last month that the line-item veto "could be a very serious error" that threatens the separation of powers. "We are the legislative branch of government."

Translation: Mr. Lewis is opposed to any budget reform that would give the President more leverage to limit his ability to spend tax dollars like there's no tomorrow. On the item veto, this puts him to the fiscal left of John Kerry, Al Gore…

The reforms that Mr. Lewis objected to can only be called modest in any case. In return for supporting President Bush's $873 billion discretionary spending limit for Fiscal 2007, the conservatives had sought a few budget "process" reforms. Kevin Brady of Texas wanted a floor vote to establish a commission to sunset federal agencies that have outlived their usefulness. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin asked for a floor vote on the line-item veto--just a vote. Mr. Lewis and his band of spenders would still have the chance to try and defeat it on the House floor.

Jeff Flake of Arizona wanted each spending "earmark" to be identified along with the Member who requested it, so perhaps lawmakers might be shamed into using tax dollars more responsibly. He assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that a legislative body that has allowed these pork projects to quadruple in the past five years is still capable of being embarrassed.

Another important reform would have addressed the "supplemental" spending shell game on Capitol Hill, whereby initial spending requests that fall within the limits of a budget blueprint are inevitably augmented by so-called "emergency" spending. And since this "emergency" spending falls outside the budget framework, the sky's the limit. The proposed reform would have set criteria for what constitutes an emergency, established a rainy day fund for when one occurs, and required a House Budget Committee vote to increase spending beyond the amount in the reserve.

All of this is a far cry from a wholesale and much-needed rewrite of the Democratic budget act of 1974, which Republicans once promised to redo if they ever won the House…

A category five political storm is building in GOP precincts around the country, and it is going to blow Republicans right out of the majority in November if they don't soon give their supporters some reason to re-elect them. So far this year they've passed limits on free speech that liberals love, but they haven't been able to extend the wildly successful 2003 tax cuts by even a mere two years. And now they won't even allow a vote on budget reforms that their own President and a majority of their own Members support…

An alternative approach to Congressman Lewis' view is articulated in the Contract With America: Renewed, proposed by the Republican Study Committee and highlighted in a recent posting by Andrew.

What Congressman Lewis and his ilk don't seem to grasp are the potentially profound consequences that their despicable actions here could have across a wide range of other foreign and domestic policy issues should the Left recapture the leadership of the Congress. Issues like the global war against Islamic terrorists, tax cuts that empower economic growth, and the return to a more modest judiciary.

All of this is not a new story. However, the despair for fiscal conservatives only grows deeper as the Congressional Republicans, with the implicit endorsement by President Bush, show a stunning level of fiscal irresponsibility. As I told one Democratic political operative last weekend: The Republicans have, after only 12 years in the leadership, done what it took the Democrats 40 years to do in Congress. Some previous and relevant postings include:

Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
Pigs at the Public Trough
Big Government Corrupts, Regardless of Party
More on the Misguided Incentives in the Public Sector
Pigs at the Public Trough, Revisited
Corporate Welfare Queens: Destructive Parasites Which Deserve to Die
Favors for Everyone Except the Taxpaying Masses
Tapscott: Has the GOP Lost Its Soul?
Rancid Pork Leaves a Bad Taste in Your Mouth, which links to numerous other postings on the highway bill, energy bill, etc.
Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? Part II
Drinking the Kool Aid
Senator Chafee: Is This How You Define Fiscal Conservatism?
Cutting the Fat: The New Porkbuster Site

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With a few exceptions (e.g., Governor Carcieri) it is becoming ever more diffficult to bring oneself to vote for "Republicans."

On the one hand, many (if not most of them) deserve to be thrown out of office for betraying the conservative - libertarian principles that (are supposed to) underlie the Party.

On the other hand, the consequences of renewed Democratic control would be dire - they'll be even worse than before, trying to make up for lost time in transforming America into a socialist state (this may sound like hyperbole, but is not to anyone who has examined their agenda).

But then, I can't help but feel that the "Republicans" are counting on people like me to vote for "Republicans" merely as way to avoid the even-worse Democratic alternative - in effect, playing conservatives for suckers. And I don't like being played for a sucker, so at time I'm inclined to call their bluff and just stay home on election day.

It's a real dilemma ...

Posted by: Tom W at April 14, 2006 4:18 PM


It may not be the worst idea. Maybe if we can survive a couple of years, it may do the "Republicans" some good to me in the minority for a few years. The Dems haven't done a bad job at it.


Posted by: TCC3 at April 14, 2006 5:40 PM

TCC3 -

The same thought has occurred to me. The Republicans were more effective when they were in the minority ... and far more effective in the minority the last time we had conservative President setting the Party agenda, i.e., Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: Tom W at April 14, 2006 9:11 PM