Big government Republicans

December 19, 2006 at 8:55 am

Former speechwriter for President Bush Michael Gerson wrote in his Newsweek column this week about a “Republican identity crisis.” In this piece, Gerson attacks conservatives in the following manner:

My low point with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy. A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression—slavery and segregation—demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.

Yet the response of many Republicans was to use the disaster as an excuse for cutting government spending, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit for seniors. At a post-Katrina meeting with White House officials, one conservative think-tank sage urged: “The president needs to give up something he wants. Why not the AIDS program for Africa?”

This reaction previews a broader, high-stakes Republican debate as we head toward the 2008 election. One Republican Party—the Republican Party of movement conservatives on Capitol Hill and in the think-tank world—will argue that the “big government Republicanism” of the Bush era has been a reason for recent defeats. Like all fundamentalists, the antigovernment conservatives preach that greater influence requires a return to purity—the purity of Reaganism.

But the golden age of austerity under Reagan is a myth. During the Reagan years, big government got bigger, with federal spending reaching 23.5 percent of GDP (compared with just over 20 percent under the current president). But the Reagan reality is more admirable than the myth. He wisely chose what was historically necessary—large defense increases and tax reductions—over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.

Gerson continues:

As antigovernment conservatives seek to purify the Republican Party, it is reasonable to ask if the purest among them are conservatives at all. The combination of disdain for government, a reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice is usually called libertarianism. The old conservatives had some concerns about that creed, which Russell Kirk called “an ideology of universal selfishness.” Conservatives have generally taught that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions: families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations. Unfettered individualism can loosen those bonds, while government can act to strengthen them. By this standard, good public policies—from incentives to charitable giving, to imposing minimal standards on inner-city schools—are not apostasy; they are a thoroughly orthodox, conservative commitment to the common good.

A good friend of mine emailed me his reaction to Gerson’s piece which I think worth posting:

In a nutshell, Gerson asserts that Reagan wasn’t really a small government conservative, and that greater government intervention is necessary to help those in need.I respect Gerson’s abilities immensely, but his inclination towards bigger government is misguided and wrong. I’m surprised that Gerson, an incredibly well-read theological scholar and evangelical, is not more familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis, who insistently cautioned against faith in the concept of an omnicompetent government.

In his essay “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” Lewis writes:

We have on the one hand a desperate need; hunger, sickness and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it; omnicompetent global technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for enslavement? This is how it has entered before; a desperate need (real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real or apparent) to relieve it, in the other. In the ancient world individuals have sold themselves as slaves in order to eat. So in society. Here is a witch-doctor who can save us from the sorcerers — a war-lord who can save us from the barbarians — a Church who can save us from Hell. Give them what they ask, give ourselves to them bound and blindfold, if only they will! Perhaps the terrible bargain will be made again. We cannot blame men for making it. We can hardly wish them not to. Yet we can hardly bear that they should.

Gerson asks in his column, “What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing.” That is an incredibly depressing assertion to be made by someone so astute. I have no doubt about Gerson’s intentions, his sincerity, or his desire to help those in need. What is so sad about his statement is that it conveys a complete lack of faith in any compassionate individual to offer assistance to those in need without a nudge from government.

The question that Gerson needs to ask himself is this: “Over the last 50 years, what has big government given to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare?” The answer? Nothing but dependence, incompetence, and injustice.

Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card told The New Yorker earlier this year that Gerson was “a C.S. Lewis type”. If only it were so.

GOP Senate committee assignments

December 14, 2006 at 10:22 am

Senator Mitch McConnell today announced the Republican Senate committee assignments. McConnell’s press release with the assignments is in the extended section. Read the rest of this entry »

The DeLay view

December 13, 2006 at 8:50 am

EDITOR’s NOTE: The following post was written by a Heritage Foundation colleague Alex Adrianson who attended a meeting yesterday with other bloggers (including myself) and Tom DeLay. Alex, who is the editor of The Insider Online, gives his take on DeLay and provides a good synopsis of the issues covered in yesterday’s meeting. I write briefly about the meeting here. Robert Bluey covers it extensively here. If you would like to email Alex regarding his post, send me a note and I will forward it on.

Yesterday at The Heritage Foundation, Former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told to a weekly meeting of bloggers that conservatives need to rethink how they advance a small-government agenda. Calling the proliferation of congressional earmarks disgusting and in need of reform, DeLay nevertheless said that the focus should be less on the amount of money the federal government spends than on redefining government based on conservative principles. DeLay argued for an agenda of entitlement reform and eliminating whole departments such as Energy, Education, Commerce, and significantly downsizing the Department of Agriculture.

DeLay came to the group in order to promote his new political Web site ( and its affiliated Grass-roots Action and Information Network (GAIN). In addition to the usual political fare (calling Barrack-Obama a Marxist-Leninist), DeLay made a vigorous case for small government as a matter of political principle, not just as a budgetary imperative.

For example, DeLay defended his vote for the prescription drug entitlement (something which other conservative groups, including The Heritage Foundation, have criticized) even though it increased spending. He said it was the right thing to do because it applied conservative principles to a socialist welfare program. Noting that the new program uses choice and competition to update a program created before prescription drugs were a major part of health care, DeLay said greater use of prescription drugs could make Americans healthier and save money in the long run. He also said that Health Savings Accounts, part of the same political package, are a major innovation that moves health care away from first-dollar insurance coverage. That problem is cited by many conservative policy analysts as the major factor driving health care expenditures up. The ultimate goal, said DeLay, should be to repeal Medicare altogether and get government out of the health care sector.

DeLay responded specifically to questions about the proliferation of budgetary earmarks during the era of united Republican government. He said it had gotten out of hand under Bush, and that it was partly his (DeLay’s) fault for letting it get out of hand. But he also argued that earmarks played a legitimate role as an institutional check on the power of the President. President Clinton, he noted, didn’t want to spend money in Republican districts. (By this standard, one supposes that Democrats are now being politically foolish in forswearing earmarks for the next year, since they face a President of the other party.)

DeLay also took a shot at the Coburn-Obama spending transparency law, saying it wouldn’t do much except help members show how much they had done for their constituents. DeLay does propose, however, his own version of earmark reform. He wants Congress, as part of redesigning the appropriations process, to set criteria by which earmarks can be judged. He also proposes that Congress bring entitlement spending into the annual budget process.

DeLay says that government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is the most meaningful measure by which to judge Congress’s budgetary performance. And by that measure, he said, things weren’t all that bad. Federal spending has increased slightly since declining to 18.4 percent of GDP right before Bush became President, but then, noted DeLay, a war happened. DeLay said he was actually very miffed at Sen. John McCain for saying that Congress was spending money like a drunken sailor.

Unlike many others who have diagnosed the Republican defeat, DeLay does not believe that Republicans lost because they stopped being conservative. He believes Republicans were not effective at explaining what they were doing, and he said he includes himself in that indictment. He cited two other factors: the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform, which he says gave all power to the shadow party of George Soros; and the fact that he had to resign from House leadership because of indictments brought against him by his political opponents. The replacement leadership, he said, was slow to get a campaign strategy up and running, and when they did they made mistakes like having President Bush talk up the war in September.

On McCain-Feingold, DeLay said: “I don’t think there is enough money in politics,” noting that this year Americans spent more money on potato chips than was spent on the midterm elections.

All in all, an interesting session with a man many conservatives blame for the Republican loss in November. While I don’t agree with his pooh-poohing of earmarks, he is right when he says that the argument for small government should come from conservative principles, not green eye shades.

Libertarians and the left

December 12, 2006 at 8:50 am

Yet another columnist warning about the impending mass exodus of libertarians from the GOP…

Corker to join Main Street Partnership

December 6, 2006 at 12:18 pm

UPDATE: Erick over at Red State tells me that Corker’s office has contacted him to let him know this story is bunk. Apparently Roll Call got this one wrong. Good to hear! 

Senator-elect Bob Corker is reportedly joining the moderate-to-liberal Republican Main Street Partnership. He will replace defeated Senator Lincoln Chafee as a member of the dwindling coalition.

Corker’s decision to join the MSP is surprising given his campaigning as a conservative. It is also perplexing. Why would a self-described conservative want to join a group that works tirelessly to undermine conservative principles?

$17 billion saved

November 28, 2006 at 10:55 am

If Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn succeed in their quest to stop the lame duck Congress from passing any earmarks, they will have saved taxpayers $17 billion dollars. Not bad…not bad at all. This from today’s Wall Street Journal Editorial page:

The agriculture bill, for example, includes a new $4.9 billion “emergency” handout for farmers, courtesy of North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad. Millions more would have been directed to Alaskan salmon research, Montana sheep, New York geese and animal-waste management in Kentucky. The 10 remaining Senate spending bills (and nine in the House) are estimated to contain some 12,000 earmarks. If GOP leaders couldn’t pass these bills individually, the scheme was to wrap them all into one giant “omnibus” bill whose innards no one would ever be able to inspect.

Enter the two rebel Senators, who rallied enough of their mates to block any omnibus bill containing earmarks. The result is that the GOP Senate may return next week for its final lame duck days and instead pass a “continuing resolution” that would fund the government at 2006 levels, kicking 2007 decisions over to the Democratic majority in January. By Mr. Coburn’s estimate, taxpayers would save about $17 billion if Congress takes this approach.

That prospect has the usual spenders howling that the world will soon end if they don’t get their fix. The Social Security Administration is warning that it would have to furlough “every employee”; we’ll believe that when we see it. Meanwhile, a source from Housing and Urban Development claimed that “thousands” of poor people “would end up out on the street.” Please.

DeMint off to good start as Steering Chairman

November 27, 2006 at 11:13 am

When Senator Jim DeMint was announced as the replacement for outgoing Senate Steering Committee Chairman Jeff Sessions some conservatives wondered if he would be able to live up to Sessions’ performance. While at the Senate Steering Committee — a body of Senate conservatives tasked with keeping the GOP caucus from drifting too far to the middle — Sessions won praise from conservatives for being a strong advocate of conservative principles and for being willing to stick his neck out on issues that many Republicans disagreed with him on.

Now, it looks as if Senator Jim DeMint will be doing just the same. As noted last week, DeMint teamed up with Tom Coburn to put the brakes on a raft of porked up appropriations bills despite receiving the predictable criticism from big-spending GOP colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. The Wall Street Journal today has more on that effort:

It’s been years since federal agencies have screamed this loudly about fiscal discipline being imposed on them. GOP Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina have decided to take a stand against overspending by objecting to the nearly 10,000 earmarks, or member-sponsored pork projects, larded throughout the spending bills Congress is currently considering.Their obstinacy has convinced the leadership of the departing Republican Congress that they probably won’t be able to pass spending bills in next month’s short lame-duck session. Instead, they are likely to pass a stopgap “continuing resolution,” which will continue funding all programs at last year’s level until the new Democratic Congress passes its own versions of the funding bills.

Mr. Coburn says the decision not to pass earmark-stuffed catchall spending bills could save taxpayers a cool $17 billion. All 10,000 earmarks in the pending bills will expire if they aren’t passed by the end of the year. Mr. Coburn says the decision of the congressional leadership to instead go for a continuing resolution is a sign Republicans are learning some lessons from their stinging loss of Congress three weeks ago. “By either staying home or not voting Republican, many voters were sending a message that they don’t want to give the spending favor factory that Congress had become their stamp of approval,” Mr. Coburn says. “It’s time that message was heeded.”

Nonetheless, the cries of pain are mounting now that it looks as if many federal agencies will have to get by until late January or even later with the same amount of money they got last year. Of the 11 spending bills covering the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, only those governing defense and homeland security have become law. Appropriators are beside themselves that a continuing resolution that restrains spending is on the table. Rep. Jerry Lewis, who is ending his stint as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, calls it a “catastrophe.” A spokeswoman for Mr. Lewis’s Senate counterpart, Thad Cochran, says it is “irresponsible.”

It’s not easy to go up against entrenched powerful appropriators, especially when you know you are going to get attacked with every type of distorted argument your pork- addicted opponents (who are many) can come up with.

Judging by these actions, it looks as if the Steering Committee will again be led by a strong fiscal conservative who is willing to buck the status quo.


November 17, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Blunt beats Shadegg 137-57

November 17, 2006 at 10:40 am

Below is a statement from a Roy Blunt press release:

“For twelve years, the Democrats have gotten away without leading, without offering an agenda, and without saying what they’re actually for. Now they will be forced to govern.”Under this Republican leadership, the job of the Minority Whip will no longer be to go to the House floor every day and lose. Instead, each time we hold our team together and force the Democrats to vote like Democrats, we’ll be taking one more step toward recapturing our majority in 2008.

“One-hundred-forty-nine Democrats demonstrated yesterday that they are willing to buck Nancy Pelosi. We’ll work each day to give those Democrats a viable alternative to her liberal, San Francisco agenda.

“John Shadegg ran a good race, and I look forward to working with him in the 110th Congress to advance the reform agenda that he articulated so well throughout this campaign. As a party, we learned some hard lessons last week. But our ideas didn’t lose — we did. Today begins the rebirth of House Republicans’ common sense agenda with a leadership team that is more unified than ever, ready to regain the trust of the American people, and ready to restore faith in our ideals.

“John Boehner is a good friend, and he and I will continue working hard with all of the leaders elected today to advance an agenda aimed at limited government, personal responsibility, and economic and national security.”

What will they do?

November 17, 2006 at 8:08 am

Right now, gathered in the Canon House Office building is the entire GOP caucus. They will vote for their new leaders from top down, meaning the first vote is the biggest: Pence or Boehner.

The order of elections will be:

1) Republican Leader

2) Republican Whip

3) Chair of the Republican Conference

4) Chair of the Committee on Policy

5) Vice Chair of the Republican Conference

6) Secretary of the Republican Conference

7) Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee

Each nomination will be preceded by a nomination speech that lasts about 3 minutes before the caucus proceeds to cast secret ballots.


UPDATE: NRO’s Jonathan Martin has a user’s guide to this morning’s leadership elections.

UPDATE 9:04: Nominating speeches for Minority Leader are finished and the voting has begun.

UPDATE 9:10: Votes are being counted…Fox News’s Major Garrett predicts a Boehner landslide but a closer Whip race.

UPDATE 9:12: The House GOP conference has announced a Boehner victory.

UPDATE 9:15: Boehner is speaking to the GOP caucus right now. The first man to shake his hand after the vote was Mike Pence.

UPDATE 9:21: The final tally was 168-27 for Boehner.

UPDATE 9:26: I have to run to a previous commitment so updates will stop here for a bit. I will be sending Andy over at the Club for Growth any updates I get. Be sure to head over there as he will be covering what is going on over there in the Canon HOB.

The Corner is all over this too.

UPDATE 10:40: The election for Conference Chair is underway. They are moving to a second ballot. Lungren fell off with 29. Blackburn had 31, Kingston - 58 and Putnam - 81.

UPDATE 10:57: Blackburn is out with 30 votes. Kingston had 74 and Putnam had 89 on the last ballot. Kingston was the beneficiary of most of Lungren’s votes. They now move to the final ballot. Blackburn supporters will decide outcome.

UPDATE 11:04: Putnam wins 100-91.

UPDATE 11:21: Thad McCotter just won Policy Chair.

UPDATE 12:10: Tom Cole and Pete Sessions are headed to a second ballot for NRCC Chair. Phil English was shed on the first.

UPDATE 12:15: Cole gets it.

UPDATE: John Carter to Secretary.