Last week, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson – America’s 32nd and 36th presidents, respectively – once again ruled the day in Washington. On back-to-back days, House Republicans joined with their Democrat colleagues to extend, expand and fund New Deal and Great Society programs.
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama described New Deal-era Export-Import Bank as “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” Four years later, who would have thought 147 House Republicans would have joined every single one of their Democrat colleagues in supporting an expansion of the Bank, which now-President Obama supports. Despite the tweaks included in the Cantor-Hoyer compromise, the bill will continue to distort the market and put taxpayer funds at risk.
The bank is antithetical to conservative principles, and should be an anathema to lawmakers who rail against Solyndra and Fannie Mae. Journalist Tim Carney summed it up this way: GOP joins Obama in embracing crony capitalism. Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) was even more direct: “Republicans are always protecting Big Business instead of protecting the market.”
Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) was a bit more philosophical, saying, “A lot of these have to do with the political machine in Washington…But there’s a fundamental principle here: I don’t think Washington needs to be in the export finance business.” This is the argument that conservatives in Washington and around the country were making. FDR would have been pleased that just 93 Republicans stood on principle in opposing his beloved bank.
A day earlier, 129 Republicans voted to eliminate the Economic Development Administration. Established in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s “Great Society” agenda, the EDA is now nothing more than a mask for political projects. Just as with earmarks, the EDA uses taxpayer dollars to target local projects with a very narrow benefit – in many cases just one particular company or small segment of population. It picks winners and losers by region, industry and community, all at the taxpayers’ expense.
The amendment’s sponsor, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS), said, “If those who talk constantly about rolling back the unsustainable size and scope of the federal government are serious, then they will support my efforts to eliminate the EDA. … It’s time to halt the EDA, and the rest of the federal government, from using our money on a failed stimulus-style spending model.”
Amazingly, 104 House Republicans joined 175 of their Democrat colleagues to defeat the amendment, which would have saved $3 billion over the next decade. LBJ would have undoubtedly been pleased.
But before you get terminally depressed, none of this means the New Great Deal Society Party has replaced the Tea Party. In fact, there are reasons to be optimistic that conservative voices around the country – and a strong core of conservative lawmakers in Washington – are laying the groundwork for conservative policy victories.
Just look at the facts.
Last time Congress reauthorized Roosevelt’s Export-Import Bank it was by unanimous consent. In just six short years, it has become a defining issue for the conservative movement. We now have people in Congress willing to make the case against Johnson’s Economic Development Administration. And, the results from Indiana demonstrate the American people are not itching for a return to FDR and LBJ-style governance.
Even in the midst of bipartisan reaffirmation of New Deal and Great Society programs, House Republicans managed to jumpstart a serious conversation on spending, welfare reform and defense. While the reconciliation measure, designed to replace the arbitrary defense cuts contained in last year’s absurd debt deal, fell short in some aspects, Republicans deserve credit for beginning the conversation.
While some conservative lawmakers were quietly apathetic over the limited nature of the reconciliation bill, they can look to the Senate for inspiration. Sounds absurd, right? But this week, the upper chamber is likely to vote on a budget resolution introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and cosponsored by Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rand Paul (R-KY), that would “cut the size of government in half over 25 years.” The budget, based off Heritage’s “Saving the American Dream” plan, instantly becomes the benchmark by which conservatives will measure future reforms.
In any other context, the media would characterize this as a “bold move.” It is unlikely they will be so kind to serious conservatives, though. But what the Senators – and other conservatives realize – is that we cannot keep the New Deal and Great Society alive if we are to save the American dream.