Big Government Cons

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As reader Dave Wolcott notes, the Wash Post is one of the last places you'd expect to see a house editorial condemning government spending. But they do so today, attacking "big government conservatives" who spend spend spend while talking a good game about cuts cuts cuts.

The Post does a real public service by highlighting the GOP's profligacy under George W. Bush:

Back in 1987, when Mr. Reagan applied his veto to what was generally known at the time as the highway and mass transit bill, he was offended by the 152 earmarks for pet projects favored by members of Congress. But on Wednesday Mr. Bush signed a transportation bill containing no fewer than 6,371 earmarks. Each one of these, as Mr. Reagan understood but Mr. Bush apparently doesn't, amounts to a conscious decision to waste taxpayers' dollars. One point of an earmark is to direct money to a project that would not receive money as a result of rational judgments based on cost-benefit analyses.

Mr. Bush, who had threatened to veto wasteful spending bills, chose instead to cave in. He did so despite the fact that in addition to a record number of earmarks the transportation bill came with a price tag that he had once called unacceptable. The bill has a declared cost of $286 billion over five years plus a concealed cost of a further $9 billion; Mr. Bush had earlier drawn a line in the sand at $256 billion, then drawn another line at $284 billion. Asked to explain the president's capitulation, a White House spokesman pleaded that at least this law would be less costly than the 2003 Medicare reform. This is a classic case of defining deviancy down.

The nation is at war. It faces large expenses for homeland security. It is about to go through a demographic transition that will strain important entitlement programs. How can this president—an allegedly conservative president—believe that the federal government should spend money on the Red River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Louisiana? Or on the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan? The bill Mr. Bush has signed devotes more than $24 billion to such earmarked projects, continuing a trend in which the use of earmarks has spread steadily each year. Remember, Republicans control the Senate and the House as well as the White House. So somebody remind us: Which is the party of big government?

Of course, the short answer to the Post's rhetorical question is: Both. Though there's little question that government spending grows less under divided government.

Whole Post editorial here.

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  1. So somebody remind us: Which is the party of big government?
    Of course, the short answer to the Post’s rhetorical question is: Neither.

    Uhm, Nick, shouldn’t the answer to the rhetorical question be: Both?

  2. Backhanded attempt to slam both parties even though only one party actually did wrong here? Check.

    Everything’s functioning normally at reason.com. Go about your business.

  3. Everyone remembers how spending and deficits when through the roof during the 1993-1994 Congress, right? Right?

    Wouldn’t it be sweet if a president announced, right at the beginning of the next Transportation bill, that he wouldn’t sign a bill with ANY earmarks? You’d think a president could get some serious good press for something like that.

  4. The best solution I’ve seen to address this problem is the Balanced Budget Veto.

  5. Government spending goes up under either party because, duh, the public likes it. The Republicans have a leg up over Democrats at this point because they learned, under Reagan, that you can get more votes by not only increasing spending, but by cutting taxes at the same time. There are, of course, economic limits to this strategy, which will undoubtedly manifest themselves in the near future.

  6. “a White House spokesman pleaded that at least this law would be less costly than the 2003 Medicare reform. This is a classic case of defining deviancy down.”

    BOO-YAH!

  7. M1EK,

    The bill passed with overwhelming support from both parties and included pork for both parties. Both deserve the bitch slap that they received.

  8. When you have one party of big government, another party of big government, and the minority one has no vision or leadership or balls – yeah, both are at fault.

    plus, didn’t the dems have some power after 9/11? Their “leadership” around leading up to the iraq war was terrible. They deserve lots of the blame.

    If big, intrusive government is the enemy, both parties serve that.

    Oh wait, now you’re gonna get pissy and call me names and claim i’m a stoogie of some big corporate scheme.

  9. Will be correcting “neither” to “both” momentarily (thanks Soda).

    M1EK: Do you really think that all the markups are only for GOP districts? Puh-lease.

    Check out the link on gov’t spending patterns and you’ll find that the single biggest increase in real postwar spending occurred during the Kennedy-Johnson years, when Dems controlled everything. Bush 2, when Reps control everything, comes in second. And you’ll also find that real postwar government spending has always gone up, even in relatively austere periods. So yeah, both parties are big spenders.

  10. M1EK,

    If you are seriously intimating with your post that Democrats wouldn’t act like Republicans are now if they had the same amount of power,then you are deluded. As just one sign of who they are, the Democrats were dominant in Congress during Reagan’s tenure, and the Transportation bill that he vetoed had the Democrats’ pawprints all over it.

    Joe,

    The 93-94 Congress might not have spent as much money as we are now, but that has more to do with Republicans actively fighting everything that Clinton and the Dems wanted. Remember Health Care? Clinton and Clinton tried working that through the system the previous year and that year. If that hadn’t been stopped by Helms and his ilk, the money spent would have made the 2003 Medicare bill look like lunch money.

    What do I extrapolate from these two learned gentlemen’s errors? We as a nation are so overwhlemed by the egregious waste under a “conservative” Republican admin/Congress that we are starting to pine more and more for relief from the only other option- the Dems- without stopping to think rationally and remembering that while the Reps at least pretend to be in favor of smaller government, the Dems are upfront about how much they want to steal from the populace. They state it right in their platform and their campaign speeches. So let’s not start looking to them for help!

  11. “There are, of course, economic limits to this strategy, which will undoubtedly manifest themselves in the near future.”

    When the Democrats in are power. It’s a neat little scam, actually.

    “plus, didn’t the dems have some power after 9/11?” No, not really. Anyone who questioned the president was a terrorist-lover. Tom Daschle got morphed into Osama bin Laden because of some obscure labor standards issue in the Department of Homeland Security.

  12. the Reps at least pretend to be in favor of smaller government

    i’m not sure that is even the case anymore with many GOP leaders and “mainstream conservative” columnists (Brooks, Barnes, Will) supporting the statist shift in one form or another. there’s a fairly well written piece by Jim Antle on libertarians and the GOP from 2003…

    http://www.amconmag.com/11_17_03/cover.html

    it seems to me neither the Dems or the GOP can claim the anti-statist mantle (even in rhetoric). we tend to get a better deal with the GOP (i.e. tax cuts) but docking your pay while racking up the credit card isn’t a good long-term solution as Ron notes…

  13. During the next major economic recession, is it possible that there could be a run, not on banks, but on the federal government? Can someone with more knowledge of economics help me out here?

    During the next crash, imagine a large number of people simultaneously cashing in US treasury bonds. What if the Fed, who would lack capital due to lowered tax revenue, was unable to immediately and fully pay on its bonds? This would cause a panic: get your money out of the Fed while you still can. Would the Fed start printing money to cover its ass? Would congress enact a law undermining the value of Treasury Bonds?

  14. To those who assert no difference between the Dems and Reps in this matter, baloney:

    The Reps are outspending the Dems in their wildest years, AND AND AND, and here’s the kicker: NOT PAYING FOR IT.

    If you’re going to spend on pork, at least have the decency to tax TODAY’S taxpayers for it rather than TOMORROW’S.

    THAT is a difference which, I think, honestly shows the Dem approach to be the lesser of two evils. And as expected, most of Reason doesn’t like to admit it when the lesser is wearing a (D).

  15. M1EK,

    How about: just stop spending money on pork? That way everyone wins. And as a bonus – we can quit this silly (D) vs. (R) argument.

  16. To those who assert no difference between the Dems and Reps in this matter, baloney

    if you’re referring to my comment that “neither the Dems nor the GOP can claim the anti-statist mantle” – i would argue there is indeed no difference between the two.

    it sounds to me as if you are commenting on fiscal responsibility whereas i was writing about the size of the state. if government spending increases – which it has during democratic and republican control of the WH and congress – from whence the money comes (i.e. higher taxes or issuance debt) is irrelevant. the size of government remains the same.

    i would agree with you that current taxation to support current spending is far more fiscally responsible. however, i don’t have data, in front of me, indicating the ratio of the deficit to total spending over the past 45 years. so, i can’t say what party has the better track record… (notice me not admitting that the Dems can claim victory here).

  17. It should be noted that the few nay votes on this bill, both in the House and the Senate, were all Republicans. There may be still be a heartbeat in that ruined party somewhere. The mighty “fiscally responsible” Democrats all voted for the bill – all of them.

    FYI – Ron Paul did not vote on this one. I sent an email to his office asking why. Since I live in his district, I figure I might actually hear from him. I also want him to go bear hug Senator John Cornyn, since he also represents me and voted nay.

  18. If you’re going to spend on pork, at least have the decency to tax TODAY’S taxpayers for it rather than TOMORROW’S.

    i would agree with you that current taxation to support current spending is far more fiscally responsible.

    Why? It doesn’t make any difference how the wasteful spending is financed; it is the wasteful spending that is the problem. Let’s say you’re the DOT and you’ve just been ordered by Congress to waste $100 today. You can either tax people $100 today to pay for it, in which case taxpayers are $100 poorer today. Or you can borrow the $100 and leave the money with the taxpayers for now. Somewhere down the road you can tax them $110 to pay off the debt. But by then that $100 you left with the taxpayers has grown to $110 anyway so it’s still a wash. What people forget is that when you forgo taxing now, that money accumulates interest in the bank accounts of the taxpayers. Actually it is probably even better than a wash, since the government can borrow much cheaper than you can, that $100 dollars left in the economy is going to grow by more than the amount of the debt. Worried that you’re not a savvy enough investor to beat even the worst case scenario? Well, then just buy government bonds with the $100 they left you and lock in a guaranteed growth at precisely the same rate as interest on that $100 government debt is accumulating. Then it is exactly a wash and you’re no better or worse off for the delay in raising your taxes.

    Of course none of that should make you feel any better about $100 that has been wasted – it’s still $100 out of your pocket gone forever. But at least you can relax and stop worrying about how the government chooses to finance its waste. That just obscures the fact that the real damage is the waste itself and not whether we raise taxes today or tomorrow to pay for it.

  19. It’s seems that the defenders of the Republicans are striving mightily to deny the difference between programs whose philosophical foundations they disagree with, and indefensible pork/giveaways.

    I really don’t want our annual military spending to be $400,000,000,000. I’d rather see it half of that. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to pretend that spending the extra money on more F-22s and on water and fuel for the troops in Iraq is no different than spending it on sweetheart deals to lease planes from somebody’s brother in law.

  20. “Why? It doesn’t make any difference how the wasteful spending is financed; it is the wasteful spending that is the problem.”

    That’s a load of crap.

    If I buy a Porsche today and pay for it with my own money, I’ve perhaps spent frivolously. If I buy it, and pay for it with other peoples’ money (by going bankrupt; passing the loan on to my heirs; or whatever), I’ve been frivolous AND irresponsible.

    To say that there’s no difference who pays the tax bills for this pork is stunningly obtuse. If current taxpayers had to pay the bills, perhaps less pork would actually be included. But even if not, at least the right people would be paying the bills.

  21. Rhywun,

    It’s my belief that if pork was required to be paid for by current taxpayers, we’d have a lot less of it. This is a more pragmatic way of attacking the problem than bleating that both parties like to spend, true or not.

  22. When you go to Washington with the goal of proving how wasteful and corrupt the government is, and when undermining the public’s faith in the public sector is the central premise of your ideology, being handed the keys to the vault must create a huge moral hazard.

  23. Well, as much as I hated Big Government Liberalism, I have to say, Big Government Conservatism is worse. Maybe it’s the added spice of terrorism and “struggle” without end, maybe it’s seeing Bush devote more time to goddam mountain biking than to, well, anything, or maybe it’s that I am getting older, but with BGL I always worried the country would go bankrupt spending on silly shit, whereas with BGC I worry that the country will go bankrupt spending on silly shit, and then we’ll all die. Maybe it felt this way watching Johnson and the Democrats (I was not around to know), but it seems to me this bunch has taken incompetence and corruption to a whole new level, with incredible stakes for our future.

    And, at least for the time being, saying “Democrats are just as bad” (while true), is beside the point– the sins of the party that controls nothing simply cannot compare to the sins of the party that controls it all.

  24. That’s a load of crap.

    -M1EK responding to me with yet another example of his powerful rhetorical skill. Irony of this statement to follow:

    If I buy a Porsche today and pay for it with my own money, I’ve perhaps spent frivolously. If I buy it, and pay for it with other peoples’ money (by going bankrupt; passing the loan on to my heirs; or whatever), I’ve been frivolous AND irresponsible.

    Perhaps superficially true but totally irrelevant to the point at hand because it has nothing to do with the example of how the government spends. The government doesn’t ever have any of its own money (as you do when buying a Porsche) – it is all the taxpayers so it can only spend other people’s money. It is as if you were buying a Porsche with your neighbor’s money. Whether you demand if of them up front or take it from them in ten years is also irrelevant. It’s the fact that you expect them to buy it for you, not how they finance the extortion, that is the insult. If they leave the debt to their kids, so what? They will also leave them the money (and interest) that you didn’t extract from them up front to pay for it. The damage has been done and it is the same in either case.

    So, basically you didn’t even begin to understand, much less address, the point I made, yet you had the nerve to preface your response with “That’s a load of crap.” Heh. I suppose that would normally be embarrassing to most people but somehow I think you’ll have no problem with it given your previous posts to this board.

    However, I do think you’d be better off trying to refute the example with a specific explanation of where it goes wrong rather than resorting to your usual eloquence. “Load of crap,” indeed.

  25. I just got an unpleasant shudder when I realized that there was a certain–perhaps superficial–resemblance between the Bush administration’s (and Congress’) approach to the budget, and the Johnsonian “guns and butter” approach of the ’60s. Brrr.

    That said, sitting around trying to figure out whether the Evils or the Stupids are more blameworthy is silly…as is absolving yourself of responsibility–not fault, responsibility–for addressing the problem by trying to prove you’re the biggest swinging libertarian uh, short-arm in the room.

    Political parties are made up of people. Each of you is a people, ain’t you? Pick whatever party you choose and Take Back Your Government.

    Or curse the darkness, whatever.

  26. It was a little weird when, years back, some libertarians and conservatives reacted with shock and horror at Bush pushing the big-government programs he endlessly talked about during his campaign.

    It’s a little lame, years after the fact, to see Democrats trying to attack Republicans for learning to emulate them.

  27. Brian,

    “That’s a load of crap.

    -M1EK responding to me with yet another example of his powerful rhetorical skill. Irony of this statement to follow:”

    Irony indeed.

    Shine on,
    M1EK

  28. I think the resemblance to Johnson’s guns-and-butter is more than superficial. It’s hard to see the substantive difference – aside from the fact that Johnson, again unlike the Republicans who are just like the Democrats in every respect except for all the ways they aren’t, actually paid for his spending with more taxes than borrowing.

  29. “It’s a little lame, years after the fact, to see Democrats trying to attack Republicans for learning to emulate them.”

    Except, AGAIN, that the Dems paid for their spending with taxes which are (in aggregate) levied on the people who put them into office to vote for pork. The Reps are asking your children to pay for our pork.

    And no, Brian Court, I don’t accept your bullshit rationale straight out of Gingrich-land that there’s no difference. My kids aren’t old enough to vote yet; I am. Asking them to pay for my pork, even if I MIGHT leave them some of my foregone taxes, is irresponsible.

    There IS a difference between the parties here. Any honest observer would note it. The fact that most of you don’t does more than ever to convince me that you’re just Republicans who don’t like James Dobson much.

  30. OK, M1EK, there’s a difference. The dems tax and spend, the reps just spend. But is that a huge difference? No. They’re both wrong. Pork is pork, who cares how you pay for it?

    For the record, my guys (Kyl and McCain) voted no. But I didn’t vote for either of them, because I always vote libertarian. If there’s no libertarian candidate, I don’t vote for that position.

    I will admit, though, that I will have a hard time not voting for Jeff Flake (Congress) if I’m in his district in the next election. I’ve been following his votes lately, and have been pleased almost every time. If there’s a lib against him, I’ll probably vote lib, but if not, I’ll vote for Flake.

    Point being, I hate the two ‘major’ parties.

  31. “OK, M1EK, there’s a difference. The dems tax and spend, the reps just spend. But is that a huge difference?”

    YES! It means that the people who get the presumed benefits of the spending at least had the opportunity to PAY THE BILLS.

    I’m amazed that none of you see the big difference here. Being frivolous with your own money is foolish but not immoral. Being frivolous with your children’s money?

  32. Except, AGAIN, that the Dems paid for their spending with taxes which are (in aggregate) levied on the people who put them into office to vote for pork. The Reps are asking your children to pay for our pork.

    Because, gosh, the Democrats never ran a deficit…

  33. But the gov’t isn’t spending it’s own money, as someone else pointed out, it’s spending my money, and your money. What’s right about that? Again, I’m not seeing a big difference. Both parties are in the wrong and need to take a step back. I vote against them consistently, who else will??

  34. Bush is a big spender if there ever was one. Federal spending has exploded at an inflation-adjusted 7.8% annual rate since Bush took office. It’s even worse than that as Bush has proposed more spending then has been passed! The GOP members in congress have failed to restrain Bush’s big spending agenda like they did Clinton’s. Probably due to, at least in part, the post 9/11 “rally round the Pres.” sentiment. The Republicans in congress tend, however, to be far more frugal then the Dems. If the Dems in congress had gotten their way on spending votes, federal spending would be even far higher!

    Go to the NTU to see how the different congress persons’ and senator’s voting records for fiscal frugality rate:

    http://www.ntu.org/main/misc.php?MiscID=13

    And here, to see which ones win the NTU’s Taxpayers’ Friend Award for fiscal frugality in the House:

    http://www.ntu.org/main/page.php?PageID=75

    and Senate:

    http://www.ntu.org/main/page.php?PageID=76

    I think, but I’m not sure, that all the winners of the Taxpayers’ Friend Award are Republicans. Note that in the House, only Flake of Arizona has a better record than Ron Paul.

  35. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to say something about how tax-cut-then-borrow-and-spend-like-crazy is better than tax-and-spend-like-crazy, here’s what I’d say:

    You can always invest your tax cut in something with a better yield than US treasury bonds, so when you finally have to pay for today’s spending you’ll have more than enough to pay the interest.

    Conversely, if you held a gun to my head and forced me to say something about how tax-and-spend-like-crazy is better than tax-cut-then-borrow-and-spend-like-crazy, here’s what I’d say:

    Unlike the future generations that will pay for borrowing, the current generation that’s paying the taxes at least had the opportunity to do something about the spending. Some of them voted for it and they deserve what they get. Others did nothing and almost deserve what they’re getting. Still others didn’t do enough, or did a lot but it still wasn’t enough, and while there’s no way to justify taxing them, at least they had a fighting chance. The next generation doesn’t even have that. They’re already stuck with the bill.

    Not a very good argument for either policy, really, but it’s the best that I can come up with. The bottom line is that massive spending sucks.

  36. It’s time for a new Constitution. Let the Revolution begin!

  37. And no, Brian Court, (sic) I don’t accept your bullshit rationale straight out of Gingrich-land

    More beautifully inane commentary from M1EK. How does this guy do it? I have to admit it is kind of entertaining and humorous to see how hard he tries to be insulting while exposing his own ignorance.

    I do believe one of the main provisions of Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was, after all, the balanced budge amendment. It looks pretty clear that M1EK thinks more like Gingrich than I do, so I guess I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out that silly comment. Of course, calling people liars and GOP shills is his strong suit, not accuracy or logical consistency, so don’t be surprised when you can’t make sense of it either. But seriously, is it too much to ask that if you’re going to try to insult me, at least make a reasonable effort at making sense.

    There IS a difference between the parties here. Any honest observer would note it.

    What, you disagree with him? Well then you’re simply not honest! Only a hack has to resort to the ‘any honest person would agree with me’ lazy-man’s approach to argument.

    I’m amazed that none of you see the big difference here. Being frivolous with your own money is foolish but not immoral. Being frivolous with your children’s money?

    You’re worried about your kids having to pay for the current spending instead of yoruself? Are you serious? You’re either lying or ignorant or both (try to guess which one my money is on). Such economic nonsense, or should I say economic “load of crap,” from someone so quick to bash everyone else is just more unintentional irony from the master of it.

    Here’s a word of advice if you’re so worried about your poor little kids being saddled with daddy’s debt: Buy them a fucking bond you moron! You can pay every dollar of their share of the debt from any current government spending program by simply putting that amount into a bond that will grow at exactly the same rate as their future liability. By lending the government the share of money it is borrowing on your behalf, you are in essence paying taxes up front and relieving your descendents of any burden they might bear at your expense. What’s better, if you are even half as intelligent as those kids you can easily do better than that rate and they will come out ahead.

    We may be expecting the future generations to pay for current spending, but by not taxing people today we are leaving money in the bank accounts of current taxpayers which will grow more than enough for those future generations to pay the bill when it comes due (the government rate is essentially the risk free rate – the average return on the funds left in the economy will undoubtedly be greater). So once again, it isn’t the financing method but the level of spending that matters. Waste is waste however you pay for it.

    * Apologies to the rest of you for my little personal attack, but I’m so sick of listening to this guy accusing everyone who thinks differently (which is to say thinks at all, apparently) of lying or carrying water for the GOP. It is almost comical but if you go back and look at his posts on almost every thread it’s the same thing over and over. Not that I mind a little personally abusive give and take now and then when things get heated; we all do it once in a while (well not thoreau… 🙂 ). But with this clown it is the same knee-jerk pathology in every thread: shout “liar!” “load of crap!” “bullshit!” “Gingrich!” “anyone that doesn’t see (fill in the blank with his opinion) is dishonest!” His pathetic ‘everybody here is a GOP- randroid-liar-for-hire’ act is just wearing thin. /rant

  38. Personally, I’m hoping for 8 years of Hillary Clinton as President, with a Republican controlled (but not veto-proof) Senate and House. Can you taste it? Sweet, sweet gridlock.

    As a side note, am I the only libertarian in the world who has never read Ayn Rand? It’s not deliberate avoidance, I just never get around to it.

  39. “More beautifully inane commentary from M1EK. How does this guy do it? I have to admit it is kind of entertaining and humorous to see how hard he tries to be insulting while exposing his own ignorance.”

    and then

    “Buy them a fucking bond you moron!”

    How much did it cost to get your self-awareness removed?

  40. No, tsiroth, there is at least one other. Although I did listen to RUSH albums quite a bit in my early twenties. 😉

  41. How much did it cost to get your self-awareness removed?

    LMAO as they say… Exactly what is ignorant about telling you to buy a bond? Is it my belief that you might be smart enough to finally understand the concept? Yeah, you’re probably right… guilty.

  42. i don’t have data, in front of me, indicating the ratio of the deficit to total spending over the past 45 years. so, i can’t say what party has the better track record

    since i am off for the summer, i got bored and pulled this data (see link below)… draw your own conclusions. it shows total federal outlays (on-budget) and the annual deficit/surplus.

    the “deficit/surplus” line also represents, by color, control of the White House.

    the “outlays” line represents, by color, control of congress. a divided congress is represented by green (including the recent 50/50 senate split).

    it goes from 1947 (when we went into surplus for two years after the war) through 2004.

    Federal Outlays & Budget Deficit/Surplus, 1947-2004

  43. Brian,

    The lack of self-awareness is in your insulting language embedded inside a post in which you whine about insulting language.

    It’s always funnier when you have to explain it.

  44. The lack of self-awareness is in your insulting language embedded inside a post in which you whine about insulting language.

    It’s always funnier when you have to explain it.

    Well it helps to explain it when, just like your mysterious Gingrich reference, it doesn’t make any sense.

    The insulting language was quite intentional and self-aware, thanks. If you can’t see the difference between intentionally resorting to an insult now and then when dealing with those who know no other way, and your pathological need to hurl invective at the first sign of disagreement, then no amount of explanation is going to help you.

    And, it wasn’t whining about insulting language it was whining about your need to resort to insulting language in virtually every post, your totally incompetent use of Gingrich as an (attempted) insult when he would support your position on borrowing (that was classic), your ignorantly whining about spending your kids money, your pathetic use of the “any honest person” crap, your tired “randroids” references, etc. etc. As I clearly said, sometimes a little personal abusiveness is called for.

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