In “Crash,” Hollywood’s finest movie so far this year, a prosperous black filmmaker tells a black gangbanger: “You embarrass me. You embarrass yourself.”
As a Republican, I say to the even more rapacious GOP Congressional leadership: “You embarrass me. You embarrass yourselves.”
Not long ago, the Republican Congress at least pretended to be serious about keeping federal spending plausibly sane. While they hurled massive expenditures in every direction, at least their rhetoric honored the grassroots-Republican expectation that they would respect taxpayers’ money.
But, save for a band of fiscally responsible backbenchers (about whom more soon), profligate Congressional Republicans have surrendered on this front.
Their leaders no longer try to restrain spending, nor do they even say the right things about stewarding tax dollars.
As the House of Representatives approved $62.3 billion in universally applauded assistance to Hurricane Katrina’s survivors, fiscal conservatives attempted to reduce other spending. House leaders rebuffed their amendment.
“My answer to those who want to offset the spending is sure, bring the offsets,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told reporters Sept. 13. “But nobody has been able to come up with any yet.” Asked if Washington operated at top efficiency, DeLay made free-market jaws drop when he said: “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority, we’ve pared it down pretty good.”
That’s right. And Elvis died of anorexia.
Since the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, domestic discretionary spending has grown from $259 billion to $466 billion, an annual average of 5.5 percent, Cato Institute scholar Stephen Slivinski calculates. Under President Bush, this figure has accelerated 8 percent per annum, on average, far ahead of inflation.
On President Clinton’s watch, the 1998 highway bill groaned under some 1,850 pork-barrel items. The 2005 highway bill, written and signed by Republicans, virtually suffocated beneath 6,371 fishy projects (including $2.5 million for the Blue Ridge Music Center), a 244 percent increase in fiduciary recklessness.
Consider the disgraceful $223 million bridge between Ketchikan, Alaska, and Gravina Island _ population 50. This equals $4.46 million per-capita.
Obscene? This is fiscal pornography. The bridge’s $223 million price tag could have very generously awarded 892 storm-swept families $250,000 to rebuild or relocate. Asked if he would reallocate this notorious bridge’s budget to Katrina’s victims, GOP Rep. Don Young, chairman of the 75-member House Transportation Committee, said: “Kiss my ear.”
For its part, the GOP-supervised bureaucracy resembles Luciano Pavarotti inhaling a chocolate sundae.
According to columnist Robert Novak, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a fiscal hawk, discovered that shoddy accounting generated $41.5 billion in federal overpayments.
At NASA, the sky’s the limit. It just unveiled a $104 billion plan to return to the Moon in the six-astronaut Crew Exploratory Vehicle. “Think of it as Apollo on steroids,” NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said Monday.
The heroes of this tawdry tale are the 110 members of the House Republican Study Committee. Led by chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind., the study committee on Wednesday unveiled “Operation Offset,” an initiative to cut federal spending to cover Katrina relief. Assisted by fiscal watchdogs Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and other stalwarts, the study committee proposed 122 ideas to save taxpayers $102 billion next year, $369.9 billion through 2010, and $929 billion through 2015. These include delaying the new, universal Medicare prescription-drug benefit (it should be slashed and focused exclusively on low-income seniors who lack drug insurance), ditching highway pork projects, and dumping corporate and farm welfare programs.
“We’re anticipating growing enthusiasm of the American people for offsetting these costs and sharpening our pencils…to find these cuts,” Pence told a Capitol Hill press conference.
Reaganites like Jeff Flake, Mike Pence, and Tom Coburn should constitute the Congressional leadership. Tom DeLay, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., are spending money at a pace that eclipses Democratic congresses. And, maddeningly, President Bush recoils from his veto pen like a vampire running from garlic. A dash of adult supervision could restrain his party’s juvenile delinquency. Alas, Bush naps upstairs while the kids trash the living room.
“Operation Offset” and the true believers behind it are the honorable exception. But as a rule, Washington’s GOP leadership is a collective embarrassment to the party of Lincoln and the Republic he held together.
(Deroy Murdock is a veteran of the 1980 and 1984 Reagan for President campaigns and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va. E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)