Since his narrow electoral victory in 2000, President Bush has led conservatives to some major victories -- and some staggering defeats.
In his leadership as Commander in Chief, his most important constitutional role, he has demonstrated rare courage and fortitude in his prosecution of the war against Jihadistan, while facing down the most intense and virulent criticism of any president since the '60's. For this, the President deserves much credit.
In domestic policy, Mr. Bush promised and delivered tax cuts and other changes in federal taxes, making them more democratic and less onerous. He combined government operations and contracted a substantial number of operations to the private sector, making future downsizing easier. By funding faith-based initiatives, he has helped infuse desperately needed moral values into the government's value-less near-monopoly of social services. He even dared seize the infamous "third rail" of politics to propose a modest injection of privatization for Social Security. And not insignificantly, he renewed and increased health- and retirement-savings accounts, the only market-oriented health care initiative on the table. For all the above we applaud the President.
However, President Bush has also surrendered ground in many crucial areas.
By ignoring his veto power, he has failed in his role as conservator of constitutional limits on the central government. He has presided over the fastest growth in non-defense spending and regulatory expansion in generations, not vetoing a single bill during his five years in office. He has personally pushed extra-constitutional legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare prescription-drug measure. His immigration policy has been incoherent and contrary to national security. He agreed to raise the $90,000 cap on Social Security taxes and was even prepared to renew the so-called "assault-weapons" ban.
Mr. Bush is the first chief executive since John Quincy Adams (1824-1828) to serve a full four-year term without once using the veto. Even George H.W. Bush -- a moderate -- vetoed 29 bills during his single term between 1988 and 1992. White House complaints that it's difficult to veto your own party's bills don't wash. Franklin D. Roosevelt (definitely not a Reagan conservative) vetoed 372 bills with Democrat-controlled Congresses, John F. Kennedy (12 bills), Lyndon Johnson (16 bills) and Jimmy Carter (13 bills). A more honest assessment might conclude that party loyalty, "pragmatic" considerations and quid pro quos explain the veto drought.
Federal spending seems out of control. The recent highway bill contained no less than 6,371 "earmarks" -- nearly all of them unabashed pork. "It's stuffed like a turkey," bragged one congressman. Only eight House members and 11 Senators voted against this unprecedented monstrosity, weighing in at $286.5 billion. To wit, between 2001 and 2005, non-defense (and non-homeland security) spending has soared by $303 billion.
Promised cuts to wasteful federal education "programs," Amtrak and public broadcasting, meanwhile, have quietly evaporated. Even modest proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid have been dropped. In all, discretionary, entitlement and interest spending for FY2006 will exceed $2.5 trillion!
But tens of billions in pork barrel spending, as egregious as it is, cannot be blamed for the fiscal crisis we now face. The ever-expanding largesse of federal entitlement programs -- government compassion ad nauseam -- is the root of the evil.
Social Security alone faces collapse in just a few decades. The 2005 report of the Social Security actuaries estimates the entitlement's unfunded liability at $11.1 trillion in perpetuity.
By contrast, Medicare faces collapse in just a few years, with an unfunded liability that makes Social Security's look like a drop in the bucket: $68.1 trillion in perpetuity. Of that, the recently enacted (but unfunded) prescription drug benefit accounts for $18.2 trillion -- nearly 1 2/3 times the whole of the Social Security liability!
Apparently, "compassionate conservatism" comes with a price tag -- but fueling the flames of unconstitutional entitlements destined for collapse is neither conservative nor compassionate.
Further, despite the apparently sound economy, growth in federal regulation continues to be the major impediment to expanded economic growth and stability. Since 2001 federal regulatory spending has ballooned 41%, and regulatory agency personnel has increased by 46%. Some of the increase went to Homeland Security, but most occurred in the SEC and EPA, not traditional Republican favorites. By way of contrast, while Bush's regulatory spending increased 6.5% a year, it grew only a modest 2.2% and 3.2% per year under Presidents Reagan and Clinton, respectively. At this rate, conservatives will soon be longing for the Clinton years!
And American small businessman: Of the 4,083 regulations now in the legislative pipeline, 789 target you.
Another extremely disquieting abuse of the Constitution -- with many unforeseen consequence -- is the attack on First Amendment rights via the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law. Not only is the FCC prosecuting unwitting small time activist groups for expressing opinions at the "wrong time," but also the agency is now eyeing the Internet for future regulation. Bloggers who operate on a shoestring may find that their political "contributions" of their time and expenditures land them in court.
In stark contrast to all of these developments, the credo of constitutional constructionism has remained unchanged.
We believe that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence should and must be returned to their rightful place as the delimiters of republican government and civil society.
We believe that individual liberty and personal responsibility, together with limited government, free enterprise and a stalwart national defense, constitute the formula that has made America great. Individual liberty rapidly decays into corruption and anarchy without a meaningful commitment to personal responsibility based on our nation's godly heritage. Traditional beliefs and values must continue to serve as our touchstone and compass.
We believe that government that is strong but limited secures liberty best. The letter of the Constitution defines those limitations. When government oversteps those bounds, it becomes tyrannical, regardless of the party in power. This notion of limited government -- Lex Rex and not Rex Lex -- guided our Founders in composing the Declaration of Independence.
We believe that the only economic philosophy congruent with these commitments to individual liberty and limited government is free market capitalism. Individuals contribute to this system through personal industry and initiative; government contributes by confining its regulatory activity within constitutional limits and employing a system of taxation that is fair and comprehensible to the average citizen. Entitlements and welfare schemes destroy not only personal initiative and responsibility, but also liberty and prosperity. Political freedom is inseparable from economic freedom. When the government stays within its constitutional role, America prospers.
The most fundamental duty of the federal government is securing the rights of its citizens. This is accomplished through a strong national defense and a fair and robust justice system. Our national policy must always put America's interests first. In our day, the war against Islamist terrorism, as well as symmetric military threats, must continue to be the focus of our defense. Our justice system needs urgent reform that can best be jumpstarted by a severe reduction of unconstitutional federal involvement in law enforcement.
For maintaining this harmony between personal liberty and limited government, we prescribe the Constitution of the United States as the best instrument yet designed by man. Its genius lies in its clear separation of powers at the federal level and its recognition that other, non-enumerated powers reside with the states and their citizens. Our commitment to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence exceed our loyalty to any organization or individual.
We, therefore, amid the abuse, neglect and even ignorance of the Constitution permeating American government, even among some self-styled conservatives, call upon President George W. Bush and Republican leaders to cease and desist the rampant abuse of the Constitution and to immediately begin a genuine restoration of constitutional government.
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