How do you go from magic to toxic in one hurricane?

Ask Dubya. He can tell you. The once party potentate, fearless leader, slaughterer of terrorists and self-proclaimed “smoke ’em out”-er of Osama bin Laden is now persona non grata in his own Christian conservative campground, a/k/a the GOP. Can one lady, Katrina, have wreaked this much havoc and prompted rebellion? Seems so.

Before Katrina (OK, and Rita), Dubya’s bacchanalian budget-bender approach to federal fiscal matters didn’t seem to bother congressional Republicans all that much. Not enough for them to rebel against their commander in chief, in any event. Since Katrina, they seem to have had a come-to-Jesus moment.

Better yet, make that a run-from-Jesus’-most-ardent-political-supporter moment.

Why? They fear the president is now so unpopular and seen as so inept that he may cost his party seats in the ’06 congressional elections. They have nothing so much as their own political futures to protect from the once-great protector.

True believers in the GOP’s right wing, members of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), are so upset with the administration’s splurge-fest that they have devolved a deficit-busting scheme of their own.

They call it “Operation Offset.” Great goal. Wrong way.

Yes, they have lost faith in Dubya’s approach to checkbook balancing. That’s the good news.

The bad news for them is that their warped solution is bound to outdistance the unpopularity of Newt Gingrich’s Contract On — or rather, For — America. Let’s see how much success they have pushing this baneful package on the voting public.

In order to trim $543 billion from federal spending, and to counter Dubya’s open-wallet response to aiding the Gulf Coast victims of Katrina and Rita, the RSC proposes the following:

  • Forcing U.S. troops to switch from government-sponsored health insurance to health savings accounts.
  • Eliminating all funding for public broadcasting.
  • Eliminating federal loans for graduate students.
  • Eliminating Title X family-planning services for teenagers.

And the list goes on. Guess it wasn’t enough for the RSC that they ripped hundreds of thousands of National Guard troops away from their families and out of their careers, to wage this war in Iraq we’re doomed to continue losing. Nope, it’s not enough either that almost 2,000 Americans have died and many thousands more came home with missing limbs and other horrendous injuries.

The torture of understaffing and substandard equipment experienced by our troops still didn’t meet with RSC approval. No, add to that the fact that service personnel now should be denied decent health insurance, too. So-called medical savings accounts are great for families earning more than $400,000 a year. But they’re oh-so-much-less enticing for families struggling on $40,000 annually (much closer to the national average).

Guess it wasn’t enough that the last time right-wing Republicans tried to de-fund public television, Barney kicked their derrieres.

Panicked parents flooded Republican phone lines with desperate pleas.

Eliminating federally backed loan guarantees for graduate students proves that Republicans do not want any American becoming too smart or too educated. Who would ever vote for them again?

Lastly, eliminating birth control for poor teens would be their version of a “chef-d’oeuvre.” It would guarantee that all poor women would remain permanently barefoot and pregnant.

Why don’t they just listen to the less ideologically driven American public on how to pay for Katrina?

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults reveals that, first, they’d cut spending on Iraq. Second, they would delay or cancel future tax cuts. I agree on the first option and disagree on the second. But, in any event, I find them both much more sensible than the positively batty proposals offered by the RSC.

There are two things that both right wings of the Republican Party (the Christian right and the fiscal right) have going for them. Moderate Republicans are nowhere to be found, and Democrats have no idea where they are or where they want to lead the rest of us. So despite the atavistic proposals, the right still may not face the losses they fear at the polls in ’06.

But if either of the other two groups now out of power finds its compass before next fall, it could have a great deal to gain.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)