The party of Ronald Reagan has devolved into the party of Lyndon Johnson, George McGovern, Henry Waxman, and Al Gore.
On spending, LBJ’s Great Society seems greater than ever. Washington Republicans’ Spend-O-Rama famously included 13,997 pork-barrel projects lodged like baby back ribs in last year’s appropriations bills. President Bush’s $92.2 billion request for Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina funding has expanded to $109 billion after Senate manhandling. It now features such germane adornments as $6 million for Hawaiian sugar growers and $1.1 billion for private fisheries. Another $700 million would redirect train tracks that CSX Corp. invested $250 million to rebuild after Katrina; new railways then would link condos to Mississippi casinos.
In one sliver of good news, fiscal watchdogs enacted rules that should pierce the earmark culture that has burgeoned under House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. That baby step aside, Congress still needs liposuction.
As Americans for Tax Reform estimates, Republican outlays between 2001 and 2006 have devoured the savings a Democratic White House and GOP Congress generated last decade. In 1993, federal spending consumed 23.8 percent of national income, and then bottomed out at 20.6 percent in 2000. Six years later, that figure boomeranged to 23.8 percent. Absent the War on Terror, homeland security, and hurricane recovery, 80.1 percent of today’s spending propels old-fashioned, big government.
“How large does the Republican majority need to be before Republicans start acting like the responsible stewards of taxpayers’ money we thought we were electing?” asked American Conservative Union chairman David Keene.
These expenditures include surprisingly generous poverty outlays. “Everybody knows” that Republicans finance tax cuts for millionaires by slashing social programs. False! Republicans reduce taxes AND replenish poverty payments. As Heritage Foundation analyst Brian Riedl calculates, GOP-approved poverty benefits swelled 39 percent between 2001 and 2005. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is the only major program trimmed, from $18.6 billion to $17.4 billion. Housing spending is up 26 percent. Healthcare aid has grown 40 percent. Nutrition relief has risen 49 percent. Keystones of LBJ’s Great Society have prospered, such as food stamps, which is up 71 percent. Meanwhile, child tax credits exploded 1,389 percent. Overall, poverty expenses now represents 16.1 percent of the federal budget _ a record.
Despite such largesse, Democrats invariably accuse Republicans of swindling the poor. So, Republicans might as well embrace their notoriety and reduce, restructure, and repeal these programs.
On petrochemical policy, the GOP’s liberal-Democrat drag show puts the pedal to the metal.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., flailing as gasoline speeds past the $3.00-per-gallon mark, proposed to send motorists $100 gas rebates. This embarrassment recalled George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign pledge to hand every American a $1,000 “Demogrant.” Frist’s $100 checks lacked such sheer ambitiousness. They were small enough to enrage spend-happy Democrats and silly enough to embitter frugal Republicans. So, Frist slipped between the barstools and slammed flat on his fanny before abandoning this brainstorm.
Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., the Laurel and Hardy of Capitol Hill, yanked a page from the playbook of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., when they demanded an inquisition into alleged oil-company profiteering. Maybe the CEOs of Chevron, Exxon, and Texaco meet Fridays for rounds of golf and price-fixing. Or perhaps energy costs are rising like helium balloons due to a robust economy, international instability, EPA-mandated gasoline recipes, stalled refinery construction, restrictions on extracting oil (or even spill-proof natural gas!) virtually everywhere, especially one mosquito-bitten corner of the Arctic Circle, and import tariffs on ethanol _ which manufacturers struggle to produce, pursuant to costly, new, federal rules requiring gasoline-ethanol blends. Why not conduct urgent yes-no votes to solve these problems? Will “pro-driver” Democrats support regulatory relief and fossil-fuel production, or will they reveal themselves as forest-green eco-freaks? If Democrats feel like filibustering against ANWR drilling, let them.
Meanwhile, Bush resembles Earth-hugger Al Gore as he proposes hiking automotive fuel-economy standards. This is just what GM needs while it breathes with a respirator. Drivers and passengers also might find it harder to avoid injury in lighter, thinner cars that remain energy-efficient while collapsing more thoroughly in head-on collisions.
How tragic that Ronald Reagan’s GOP has become the political equivalent of 1,000 cases of non-alcoholic beer: Pricey and pointless.
(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)