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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Republican Congress can no longer claim to be fiscally conservative

As someone who is an ardent free-market capitalist, I have finally had enough of Republicans who care about nothing but power. For years I have heard Republicans talk about how conservative they are and how much they favor capitalism. It is a lie.

During the Clinton years, it was very easy for Republicans to point to a Democratic president and a strong Democratic congress as reasons for increased government spending. With the election of 2000, fiscal conservatives finally had reason to hope that we would see fundamental changes in the way our government operates. Or at least there would be spending cuts and many government programs that claim one goal while achieving another, would be halted.

But what have we seen instead?
  • Anti-capitalism and protectionism in the form of steel tariffs - see Radley Balko's excellent summary of this horrendous decision and Lew Rockwell's analysis.
"In economic terms, tariffs are indistinguishable from taxes. They take people's property by force by requiring businesses and consumers to pay far higher prices for goods than they would otherwise pay in a free market. To that extent, they harm the prospects for economic growth. If anyone says otherwise, he is ignoring hundreds of years of scholarship and the entire sorry history of government interference with international trade."
  • Greater federal centralization of education in the form of "No Child Left Behind" - Lawrence Uzell has written an outstanding piece (large pdf file) for Policy Analysis that outlines many of the problems of this disastrous law.
"NCLB reflects an ideological strain that is novel for Republican presidents: utopianism. As did the older, left-wing forms of utopianism, the Bush administration emphasizes collective action rather than individual responsibility: NCLB implicitly treats students not as individuals but as passive commodities mass-produced by state programs...Utopianism usually ends up transforming rhetoric more than reality. In the real world, the chance that not one child in America will fall short of academic “proficiency” within a decade is the same as the chance that not one child will be a juvenile delinquent: zero."
"Ted Kennedy, still the Democrats' point man on health care, has blessed a bipartisan deal in the Senate. He is willing to trade the Democrats' short-term interest in denying Bush a prescription-drug bill for their long-term interest in increasing Americans' dependence on the federal government. This time, the Democrats are not going to save the Republicans from themselves. "We'll expand it over a period of time," says Kennedy, and there is no reason to doubt him. Expansion is what entitlements do best."
  • The $34 billion energy bill - Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren of the CATO Institutute wrote this piece about the rejection of free markets.
"The most obnoxious aspect is the ten-year, $18.4 billion in tax breaks and incentives for various energy investments. While conservatives like to argue that if you subsidize something, you'll get more of it, that observation is generally used as an admonition against — not as a rationale for — government intervention. In this case, the Senate proposes to subsidize investments that have been unable to attract as much private capital as proponents would like. But what are the chances that 100 senators using other peoples' (taxpayers) money will make better investment decisions than investors using their own money? It's possible that some of the Senate's choices are sound, but in those cases, all that is accomplished is the unnecessary transfer of resources from taxpayers to investors. In short, the Senate isn't subsidizing energy as much as it's subsidizing dubious investments and/or particular investors."
So this brings us to the coup de grace: the pork-laden $286.4 billion highway bill. I'm not sure what bothers me most about this bill: all the pork or Bush's lack of shame at using federal funds to promote "conservative ideals". In signing this bill, Bush has claimed that it will help economic growth.

Since when does a conservative look to spend federal dollars to help economic growth??? Does anyone else see the extreme irony in this?

Here is just a smattering of the pork in this highway bill:
  • $230 million for the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” connecting Gravina Island (population: 50) with the Alaskan mainland.
  • $14,000,000 Improve marine intermodal facilities in Ketchikan (AK)
  • $5,000,000 University of Oklahoma, to conduct research on global tracking methods for intermodal containerized freight (Norman, Oklahoma)
  • $2,750,000 Renovate and expand the National Packard Museum and adjacent historic Packard facilities (Warren, Ohio)
  • $2,500,000 Bury the power lines at India Point (Rhode Island)
  • $2,400,000 National Infantry Museum Transportation Network
  • $2,000,000 Construct an intermodal center at the Philadelphia Zoo (PA)
  • $2,000,000 Construction of a parking facility at the University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas)
  • $1,600,000 Completion of the American Tobacco Trail (Durham and Chatham Counties, North Carolina)
This post is probably about the closest I have come to cursing on this blog. Why has a Republican Congress passed such a dreadful bill?

I can think of no other explanation than power. Certainly the constituents in these areas are not clammoring for such outrageous spending.

This is corporatism at its best (or worst from my perspective). And it needs to stop.

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