- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Congress voted for more than $550 billion in spending, with GOP support, last month - reigniting election-year anger at Republicans as they struggle to erase a spendthrift image that helped sweep them from power in 2006.

Republican support for the spending, especially the nearly $300 billion, pork-filled farm bill, has refueled political rebellion in the party’s ranks that could endanger their prospects in the November elections, according to conservative strategists.

“I’m hearing from Republicans now who tell me, ‘These guys just don’t get it, do they? So why should we turn out for them?’” said former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas .

“What I’ve been hearing lately is the phrase, ‘There’s not a nickel’s difference between any of them.’ When Republicans are saying that, it hurts us, not the Democrats.”

Mr. Armey also predicted Libertarians will steal Republican voters, undermining electoral efforts at every level, from statehouses to the presidential race, if the party is seen as abandoning small-government conservatism.

Brian Riedl, chief budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Republicans are “talking like Barry Goldwater but voting like LBJ.”

“Conservatives across the country have expressed outrage at Republicans talking about fiscal responsibility but then passing a budget-busting farm bill,” Mr. Riedl said.

One hundred House Republicans voted with Democrats to override President Bush’s veto of the measure.

“There is very little hope when you can’t curtail the benefits going to well-off farmers who are benefiting from high crop prices generated in part by government policies in the form of ethanol subsidies. They’re taking money from both our pockets,” said Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans also are ignoring Mr. Bush’s stance on limiting spending in a war funding bill. Twenty-five Senate Republicans have given the Democrat-led chamber a veto-proof majority for the $250 billion supplemental bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It includes $52 billion over 10 years in higher education benefits for veterans and other domestic spending.

Mr. Bush, who asked for a clean war funding bill, has threatened to veto the supplemental bill if it contains the additional discretionary spending and increased GI benefits that are being defended fiercely by veterans groups, which are among the party’s strongest supporters.

That poses a problem for House Republicans facing tough re-election races in November in the midst of a war and returning war veterans, and it has become an issue in the presidential race as well. Likely Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama slammed the presumed Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, last week for opposing the GI college-aid provision.

“I cannot understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this …[or] why he believes it is too generous to our veterans,” he said.

Mr. McCain shot back that he did not need “any lectures” from someone “who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform.”

The war supplemental has become the chief vehicle for spending add-ons because it is seen as the last spending train leaving town this year. With the party conventions in August and early September, followed by the fall campaigns, it is unlikely there will be any other spending bills this year beyond continuing resolutions to keep the government funded until a new president takes office, congressional officials said last week.

Interviews with veteran spending critics and former budget officials reveal a deep sense of frustration over the increased size of spending bills that have been making their way through Congress this year.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, blames the Democrats who wrote the spending bills that were voted on last month, not Republicans, who, he said, “offered less expensive bills” in their place but to no avail.

“The fact is the Republican farm bill is different from the Democrats’ but people didn’t get to see that,” Mr. Norquist said. He blamed conservative talk radio and advocacy groups for not mounting a more aggressive offensive against the farm bill. “Where was talk radio? Where was the Chamber of Commerce? What did they do to make it possible to vote against this?”

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