In May, 2010, three members of Congress were beaten in their bids for re-election within their own Party elections - a Republican Senator from Utah, a Democratic Congressman from West Virginia, and a Republican-turned-Democrat in Pennsylvania. Among them, they served 76 years in Congress (their fathers served another 42); and they all had one thing in common: They were members of an Appropriations Committee. It is also noteworthy (and shocking to some) that House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-MI) suddenly decided to retire from Congress after a career of 41 years, rather than face the energetic campaign of a young Republican in his district.
In his recent article ("The Gathering Revolt Against Government Spending") in the EXAMINER, political analyst Michael Barone reminds us that on Capitol Hill, there is an old saying that there are three parties in Washington - Democrats, Republicans, and appropriators. However, Barone also takes note of these recent developments and concludes that "pork is not kosher" in this election year.
Barone correctly states that we have been told for many years that American voters are "ideologically conservative" and "operationally liberal" . . . another way of saying that they tend to oppose government spending in the abstract but tend to favor spending on particular programs. Anyone who has had any experience with county government knows this to be true. In my home county in Mississippi, we have not one but two paid lobbyists (one Democrat and one Republican), whose job it is, in part, to arrange face time with the members of our congressional delegation for county officials in search of funds to finance the latest road projects, water and sewer treatment facilities, etc.
In years past, Vice-President Walter Mondale once stated on a campaign trip to Mississippi that the State's two powerful Senators (Eastland and Stennis) were very even-handed in their efforts to control the flow of federal dollars to proposed worthwhile capital improvement projects across the nation. Mondale joked that their formula for dispensing federal funds was simple: one-half for Mississippi and one-half for the rest of the country.
Spending by the federal government on local projects began in a big way during the Great Depression and has thrived ever since. As stated by Barone, past rebellions against fiscal policies have concentrated on taxes rather than spending - such as the California tax revolt in the 1970s that led to Ronald Reagan's popular tax cuts after he became President. However, spending cuts did not follow under Reagan as he led the effort to dramatically increase the defense budget to confront the Soviet military buildup. Likewise, Bill Clinton's tax increases led to a Republican takeover and tax cuts at both the federal and state level. However, spending boomed under George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11.
Unlike previous rebellions against fiscal policies, the fiscal revolt in 2010 appears to be focused on the spending policies of the Obama Democrats. Barone says that what we are observing is "a spontaneous rush of previously inactive citizens into political activity . . . in response to the vast increases in federal spending that began with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the fall of 2008; and accelerated with the Obama Democrats' stimulus package, budget and health care bills." It is a fact that federal spending is rising from about 21 percent to 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which is high in historic terms.
The defeat of the three appropriators from both parties and the retirement of Congressman Obey is sending us a message this election year. Will Republicans come forward with a bold plan to roll back government spending? Barone tells us that "the natural instinct of politicians is to avoid anything bold." He points out that the conservatives in the recent British elections were faced with similar issues, but they were skittish about proposing spending cuts. The result was the conservatives in Britain fell short of the absolute majority they expected in their May 6 elections.
In the 2010 congressional elections, where Republicans likewise have high hopes, the issue may be whether Republicans will come up with a bold specific plan to roll back the spending of the Obama Democrats. I believe the voters are looking for such a plan, and Republicans need to supply it.
POST NOTE: I note with sadness the passing of Emett Barfield, a great man of faith and a deep religious thinker, who served as the pastor over the years of such diverse figures as William Winter and Clark Reed. I only came to know Emett well during his later years, but, like so many others, I am grateful that our paths crossed. R.I.P.
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