Jeff Jacoby takes us for a ride in a time machine, Big government deja vu:
It is 1965. You have just acquired a time machine. Eager to try it out, you set the controls to take you 40 years into the future. As the machine whirs its way through the fourth dimension, you find yourself thinking (of all things!) about politics
In the America receding behind you, the president is Lyndon Johnson. The landslide winner of last year’s election, he is forging ahead with his ”War on Poverty” and ”Great Society,” spending billions of taxpayer dollars and creating vast new entitlement programs. His fellow Democrats control Congress and easily brush aside GOP complaints about creeping socialism and reckless federal spending.
The contrast between LBJ and Barry Goldwater, the Republican he defeated in November, could hardly be greater. A fiscal conservative, Goldwater had called for sharply reducing the federal government. He and his supporters wanted to end farm subsidies, privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority, and balance the federal budget. ”Our government continues to spend $17 million a day more than the government takes in,” a Goldwater surrogate, former actor Ronald Reagan, had said in a fiery endorsement speech. ”We haven’t balanced our budget in 28 out of the last 34 years
The time machine slows to a halt. You climb out and set off to explore 2005. Many things have changed, you discover. The Cold War is over. Televisions broadcast in color. Motorists pump their own gas. The secretary of state is black — and a woman!
But one thing that seems familiar is budgetary politics. One political party is still running the show in Washington and still spending money as mindlessly as ever. The federal budget is now hundreds of billions of dollars in the red, and the national debt has soared to more than $7 trillion — well over $1.5 trillion of it added during the current presidential administration. The incumbent in the White House, a Texan named Bush, burns through money even more extravagantly than the Texan named Johnson you left behind in 1964. ”Excluding military and homeland security,” the American Conservative Union notes in a statement, ”American taxpayers have witnessed the largest spending increase under any preceding president and Congress since the Great Depression.”
Read the whole thing. I had foolishly hoped that with control of Congress and the White House, Republicans would bring some sanity to the area of “fiscal responsibility”. Sadly, they seem to have forgotten the term. Take a look at the Citizens Against Government Waste site. From Deroy Murdock’s column, Ludacris Congress:
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…
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 commonwealth…
In Franklin Delano Bush from the CATO Institute:
Franklin Delano Bush promised a gigantic federal relief effort–one that would go far beyond the traditional idea of disaster relief. He didn’t just promise to clean up debris, or provide temporary housing, or even rebuild New Orleans and coastal Mississippi. He promised that federal taxpayers would pay for the education of displaced children in both public and private schools. And that Medicaid would pay for health care for evacuees. And that taxpayers would give displaced workers cash grants of $5,000 each.
Sweeping streets of debris is one thing. Sweeping promises are another. Bush promised that rebuilt communities “must be even better and stronger than before the storm.” Oh, and he promised to cure poverty, inequality, and racism along the Gulf Coast.
The president didn’t tell us what all this would cost, but experts have been suggesting a figure of $200 billion. That would be about twice what American taxpayers spent (adjusted for inflation) on the Marshall Plan to rebuild all of Western Europe after the devastation of World War II. As Stephen Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal, with $200 billion you could give each of the 500,000 evacuated families $400,000. That would surely be the largest cash transfer program in history. And it raises the question: What’s the federal government going to do that costs $400,000 per family?
Last week, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) and 16 other members of the 110-member conservative House Republican Study Committee (RSC) unveiled “Operation Offset,” a menu of spending cuts to offset the costs of hurricane relief and rebuilding efforts. At a time where federal spending has grown by 33 percent over the last four years and spending on entitlements like Medicare and Social Security is set to explode in the next four, Rep. Pence, Chairman of the RSC, is right to call for budget offsets to meet this new national priority. “Operation Offset” would ensure that limited federal dollars are directed to the highest priorities, and Congress would be right to embrace this effort.
Congress responded quickly to Hurricane Katrina with $63 billion in emergency relief funding to help meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of affected individuals. The President then called for a greater federal commitment to rebuild the areas even better than before, stating “We will do whatever it takes” to get the job done. Leaders in the Administration and Congress have taken this vision to heart, advancing many ideas for an ever-growing federal role in the rebuilding. However, they have been virtually silent on how to pay for these efforts. Alarmed by what is loosely projected to be a $200 billion price tag, the RSC has offered the first comprehensive response in Congress to these costs.
The RSC Budget Options 2005 report, compiled by Rep. Pence and RSC Budget and Spending Task Force Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), lists over 100 specific offset targets and their associated savings. These include:
Repealing the 6,000 earmarked projects in the recent highway bill,
Postponing the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit,
Reducing farm subsidies,
Reducing federal subsidies to Amtrak, and
Eliminating the Advanced Technology Program.
The RSC proposal contains more than enough savings to cover the total projected cost of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
My guess is that Congress will do nothing. I hope they prove me wrong. What is it that Linda Ellerby used to say? “And so it goes”. And goes, and goes and goes………………