Conservative dean William Rusher issued this sage advice at the University Club in San Francisco last week: Don't expect Republican politicians to be faithful ideologues, they'll only break your heart.
My heart, I must say, never did go pitter pat for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Still, he done me wrong when, as The Washington Times reported Wednesday, he declared "victory" on congressional efforts to cut spending and said there was no fat left in the federal budget.
DeLay personifies the most ugly reality Republican voters must face: When a Democrat is in the White House, GOP members of Congress at least give lip service to the idea of watching taxpayers' pennies, and they'll oppose the president's pork barrel projects. But with a Republican president and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, they become high rollers.
Expecting Republicans to curb spending when they're in power makes about as much sense as standing between Sen. Joe Biden and a live mike.
Not that the Dems are any better. As Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, noted over the phone, party affiliation isn't the issue: "Anybody who is in power likes to spend money. That's generic. And appropriators in particular."
What to do? Citizens Against Government Waste has challenged members of Congress to sign a pledge to leave pork out of any Katrina relief package. So far, the pledge has found six takers, according to Schatz.
They are all Republicans with good skinflint credentials: Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; and in the House, Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio, Chris Chocola of Indiana, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia. Westmoreland was one of 11 members of Congress to vote against the $51 billion Katrina relief bill, noting that the amount is "nearly three times the entire annual budget of my home state of Georgia."
Said Schatz: "Everyone's opening up their wallets to help (Katrina's victims) -- except members of Congress, who are opening up our wallets."
Six takers is pretty pitiful, when you consider that this pledge simply asks members to promise that every dime of supplemental spending for Katrina clean-up actually goes to disaster relief. The pledge doesn't even address Citizens Against Government Waste's push to cut $24 billion from pet projects in the recently signed highway appropriations bill to offset some of Katrina's costs.
In the same spirit, the American Conservative Union called on President Bush and the GOP leadership to cut pre-Katrina pork. As union chairman David Keene told The Washington Times, annual spending for areas outside of military expenses and homeland security increased $303 billion between fiscal year 2001 and 2005.
Those numbers belie DeLay's claim that the federal government is running at peak efficiency. "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good," he said.
It's not good enough for Republicans to be equal to Democrats in their ease in spending other people's money. The GOP is supposed to stand for fiscal conservatism and limited government -- not Katie-bar-the-door spending. President Bush has to spend mightily to help those hurt by the hurricane, but he doesn't have to sign off on every pork-barrel project in GOP districts.
Unfortunately, a tight rein on spending never has been high on Dubya's list. He should have vetoed the pork-fest farm bill in his first term. But by failing to set the right tone, he enabled Capitol Hill to overspend. Today, you and I are paying for that lapse. And we'll be paying for it for years.
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