HACKETT: Gridlock is good
Some observers are warning that if Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, the result will be gridlock. They just don’t get it. Gridlock can be good. It can
hold down spending and keep bad bills from being passed.
The Constitution provides a balance of powers, and the country often has lived with divided government. A recent example was from 1995 to 2001, when Bill Clinton sat in the White House and had to deal with a Republican majority in Congress.
The resulting checks and balances forced President Clinton to move toward the center and led to a balanced budget and welfare reform. Two-party rule prevented excessive government spending and kept the most radical ideas from becoming law.
Over the past two years, we have seen what happens when one party wins all the levers of power. Nothing is vetoed, and the pressure groups that helped win power are paid off. The Obama administration passed bills with little or no Republican support that cost trillions of dollars.
The $800 billion stimulus bill was supposed to be for “shovel-ready” projects that would immediately put thousands to work. Instead, it was a huge Christmas tree of spending bills. Cobbled together in one big chunk of money, it paid off Democratic constituents and government labor unions.
The administration’s target of 8 percent unemployment was never reached, and unemployment is still holding now, 20 months later, at 9.6 percent. Consider that more than $58 billion went to state and local governments to help balance their budgets. The administration praised this spending as “saving the jobs” of thousands of police, schoolteachers and other government employees.
But that is what governors and state legislators are elected to do. In states such as California and New York, they grossly overspent their budgets and then turned to Washington for bailouts. In fact, they were not about to fire schoolteachers or firefighters - that is always what they say when they want to raise taxes. The stimulus ended up subsidizing insolvent, often Democrat-led states at the expense of taxpayers in other states that were fiscally prudent.
Then there was $48 billion more earmarked for education, which for many years was a local responsibility. Much of that, of course, was a payoff to one of the Democrats’ biggest constituencies, the teachers unions.
Deep within the 1,073-page bill are such little goodies as $8 billion for high-speed rail, never mind that no one needs it. After all, airlines fly you anywhere at generally reasonable cost - at least where there is competition - and do so a lot faster than high-speed trains.
Don’t forget the energy section of the stimulus, which set aside $41 billion, much designated for “green” projects. Many of these are pie-in-the-sky ideas that will burn money while not producing lasting results or putting people to work.
President Obama signed this legislative monstrosity less than a month after taking office, but it was just the beginning. With majorities in both houses of Congress, the Democrats, led by liberals House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, rammed through one spending bill after another. If the result of gridlock is just to stop more spending, it will be worth it for that reason alone.
Last week, House Republican leader John A. Boehner told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that he wants to fix the “dysfunctional” House so it can better serve the American people. He would break up big spending bills into more manageable parts and make it easier to make cuts. He also has put in place a moratorium on earmarks for Republican congressmen. This is a beginning.
In a weekend interview with the Wall Street Journal, Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, Mr. Boehner’s deputy, went further. Step 1 after the election, he said, is to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts, and Step 2 is to “cut spending as much as we can.” He also promised “real earmark reform,” but that means an internal fight with Republicans wedded to earmarks.
The Republican Party is at a crossroads. Most Republicans support the Tea Party goals of smaller government, less spending and a balanced budget. But many Republican members of Congress have spent their careers supporting government spending so they could “bring home the bacon.”
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