House Republicans are being told by their leaders to run campaigns this fall on a platform of fiscal discipline that includes cutting spending. This from a party that has given us new entitlement programs resembling Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and has set new records in “earmarks” for pork barrel projects in its home districts and states. This from a party that under Ronald Reagan at least tried to eliminate the Education Department but under President Bush has thrown new money at it with no appreciable improvement in academic achievement.
To what should we compare this? How about to a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who gets drunk between meetings and then gets up to testify he has not had a drink in the last 10 minutes, or Madonna endorsing modesty?
House Majority Leader John Boehner has published a list of Republican talking points he wants members to use in their campaigns to convince voters they are reducing spending and tag Democrats with being “fiscally irresponsible.”
There is much from which to choose for entertainment purposes. One of my favorites is Mr. Boehner’s touting of the line-item veto proposal to “help rein in spending.” This fiscal chastity belt will, according to Mr. Boehner, “make Congress more accountable for the spending it proposes, help eliminate worthless pork, and protect taxpayer dollars with a budget based on fiscal discipline.” (Pause for guffaws from readers).
Yes, the deficit is coming down, but not because of fiscal discipline by the Republican majority or President Bush, who has yet to veto a single spending bill (or any bill). The roaring economy is responsible for the deficit decline. New tax revenue has been produced and Republicans can claim credit because of their tax cuts. But unless Republicans reduce spending, the deficit will increase when the economy cools and Democrats, should they ever again become a majority, can be counted on to raise taxes as well as spend. Where spending is concerned, the two parties are identical twins.
Mr. Boehner should consult Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) for examples of where this newly discovered fiscal discipline might begin. One place is the Health and Human Services/Labor Department fiscal 2007 spending bill. CAGW found many “egregious earmarks.”
Among them is $100,000 for Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill., to help create a lineman training program (tell me this has nothing to do with football); Georgetown Visitation Monastery, Washington, D.C., for digitization and technology (whatever happened to contemplative monks with pens and scrolls and where is church-state separation when you really need it?); $500,000 for the Aerospace Museum of California Foundation Inc., McClellan, Calif., for a new interactive exhibit.
This spending monstrosity goes on and on. There is $150,000 recommended for Healthy Eating Lifestyle Principles, Monterey, Calif., for a program to improve nutrition by promoting the accessibility and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in schools. Wouldn’t removing the soda and candy machines and serving more fruit and vegetables with lunch accomplish this goal? Why is there a need for a federal program when common sense costs nothing?
There’s $300,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Delaware County, Jay, Okla., for equipment and operating expenses for programs to improve diet, physical activity and emotional health. Didn’t parents once do this at little or no expense?
Each of these recipients will defend their grants as essential to the nation’s health. Some might even claim it helps in the war on terror. The question is whether the federal government should be doing most of it. Why is the Republican Party, the party of “fiscal discipline,” which has seriously fallen off the spending wagon, getting in bed with the “tax-and-spend Democrats” they used to criticize?
Mr. Boehner’s concluding line might have worked better in 1994 when hopes were high that a Republican majority would mean smaller government and less spending: “Reversing the culture in Washington that believes the solution to every problem involves more government and more spending is not easy.” It’s easier if you haven’t spent your principles and care more about staying in office than doing what you promised, but have refused to do.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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