What on earth has happened to Republicans in Washington? Twenty years ago, we conservatives could only dream of an opportunity like the one our elected representatives are now squandering: a Republican President with majorities in both houses of Congress, and two chances to nominate constitutionalists to the Supreme Court. For reasons we can’t begin to explain, the Republican Party is in the midst of an identity crisis. Indeed, with each passing week, they behave more like the Democrats we elected them to displace. From education to prescription drugs to transportation to hurricane indemnity, today’s Beltway Republicans can’t seem to stop redistributing our money. Nor can they seem to embrace the idea that elections have consequences; that we elected them not only to protect the homeland, but to rein in spending and restore the primacy of our Constitution. Republican Revolution? What revolution? If this is our party in power, we’d be better off as a principled minority.
To be fair, we regularly applaud the President and the GOP for their staunch stand against Jihadistan, their timely tax cuts, their support of faith-based social services and traditional values, and their attempts to reform Social Security, among other things.
But there are far too many offsets. Under President Bush, non-defense (and non-homeland security) spending has soared by $303 billion.
Since 2001, spending on regulation has grown at over twice the rate of the economy, rising by 41 percent. Agency personnel increases have grown by 46 percent. Homeland Security accounts for some of these figures, but the SEC and EPA, not traditional Republican favorites, have benefited most. Regulatory spending per year saw 2.2- and 3.2-percent jumps under Presidents Reagan and Clinton, respectively, but during Mr. Bush’s tenure, increases have averaged a whopping 6.5 percent. At this rate, conservatives will soon be longing for those laissez-faire Clinton years.
Note to the American small businessman: Of the 4,083 regulations now in the legislative pipeline, 789 target you.
The recent $286.5-billion highway bill contained no fewer than 6,371 “earmarks” – literally, gifts of taxpayer money to voters back home. More than anything else, its passage was a profile in collective cowardice: Only eight members of the House and 11 senators voted against this legislative abomination.
Modest proposals to cut the rate of Medicare and Medicaid growth were dropped. Even promised cuts to wasteful federal education “programs,” to Amtrak and to public broadcasting, quietly disappeared. In all, discretionary, entitlement and interest spending for FY2006 will exceed $2.5 trillion.
Last month, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher displayed that there’s still a conservative movement on Capitol Hill. “Some of us came here to reduce the size of government after the model of Ronald Reagan,” he said. To which then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay replied, “[A]fter 11 years of Republican majority, we’ve pared it down pretty good.” Congressman DeLay, if an increase of more than a trillion dollars is “pretty good,” how would you define “bad”?
But as egregious as pork barrel spending is, it isn’t responsible for the fiscal crisis we face. The ever-expanding largesse of federal entitlement programs – government do-gooding ad nauseam – actually threatens the solvency of the Republic.
Social Security faces collapse in just a few decades. According to the 2005 report of the Social Security actuaries, the entitlement’s unfunded liability is $11.1 trillion in perpetuity. That’s “trillion” with a “T.” To his credit, President Bush has sought to reform the big-government enrichment scheme known as Social Security, though without success to date or much hope in the near future.
When compared to Medicare, however, Social Security’s liabilities are a mere pittance. Medicare’s total unfunded liability is $68.1 trillion in perpetuity. (If you’re not appalled by this number, you’re not alone; precious few humans can comprehend the immensity of one billion, much less sixty-eight thousand billions.) And the program could go belly up in just a few years. To lend further perspective to our misplaced Social Security angst, the total indebtedness of the recently enacted (but unfunded) prescription drug benefit accounts for $18.2 trillion – more than one and a half times the entire Social Security liability. Summing up, never let anyone tell you that you’re getting free drugs from Uncle Sam. Your grandchildren will most certainly be paying for them.
The President’s historic refusal to veto any legislation is further evidence of the low priority he places on fiscal discipline and constitutional limits on government. One has to go back 37 presidents and 180 years to find the last chief executive – John Quincy Adams, 1825 to 1829 – who served a full term without a single veto. Even George H.W. Bush – a moderate – vetoed 29 bills during his single term in office.
Of course, the White House’s excuse is that it’s difficult to veto one’s own party’s bills. But this just doesn’t wash. Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed 372 bills from Democrat-controlled Congresses; John F. Kennedy, 12 bills; Lyndon Johnson, 16 bills; and Jimmy Carter, 13 bills. The sad and maddening truth is that party loyalty, political “considerations” and quid pro quos are far more pressing priorities than is constitutional government in Washington today.
The President’s “compassionate conservatism” certainly seems to come with a stiff price tag. We’re still waiting to hear how enacting ever more unconstitutional laws and untenable entitlements constitutes either compassion or conservatism.
When President Bush recently spoke in New Orleans, he resolved, “We’ll not just rebuild, we’ll build higher and better.” Of course, “higher and better” would be under the mind-numbing and expensive bureaucracy that is federal control. “Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature,” he continued, “and we will not start now.”
While we applaud our President for his heartfelt and moving rhetoric, we would remind our fellow Patriots that there is a just God who presides not only over the destiny of nations, but over the wind, the waves and the whims of nature as well. For the time being, then, let us focus on rebuilding constitutional fealty, and let us insist that our nation’s destiny not be left to the whims of a wasteful federal government.