Thomas Sowell

A brief glimmer of sanity among Congressional Republicans has been followed, almost immediately, by a return to the more traditional Washington insanity.

Last week, every single Republican in the House of Representatives voted against the Obama administration's "stimulus" package-- which had stimulated an orgy of runaway spending by Congressional Democrats on everything from sports arenas to sexually transmitted diseases.

This was a rare smart move by the Republicans. If the Republicans had gone along, pursuing the will o' the wisp of "bipartisanship," then if the stimulus had by some miracle succeeded, it would have been a bill for which Democrats would claim credit at the next election.

On the other hand, if the stimulus failed-- which seems far more likely-- then it would be called a "bipartisan" bill, meaning that the Democrats would pay no price at the next election for a colossal failure.

Since President Bush started the "stimulus package" game, this was also an opportunity for Congressional Republicans to cut themselves loose from the political baggage of the Bush administration's unpopularity.

Within 24 hours, however, Republicans in the Senate came out with a plan to have the government fix mortgage interest rates at four percent-- and use taxpayers' money to cover the losses that lenders would otherwise sustain.

It is painfully obvious that government intervention in the housing markets over the past several years has been at the heart of the boom and bust that has led to a huge economic downturn.

It was not the market, but the government, that pushed for abandoning traditional standards for making mortgage loans. That was what got both borrowers and lenders way out on a limb-- and set off economic shock waves when the limb broke.

The last time the Republicans pushed for price controls was during the Nixon administration. It was very popular in the short run. But, in the long run, even Nixon admitted in his memoirs that it was bad for the country.

Price controls have been tried and failed, in countries around the world, going all the way back to ancient Rome and Babylon. Moreover, politicians intervening in the economy is the hallmark of Democrats.

What principle separates the Republicans from the Democrats? If they are just Tweedledee and Tweedledum, then elections come down to personality and rhetoric. If that happens, you can bet the rent money on the Democrats winning.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate