D. Dowd Muska


The GOP, Limited Government, and ‘Political Reality’

May 09, 2013

Republican Party hacks, this one’s not for you.

Limited-government stalwarts have never enjoyed untrammeled power in the GOP. But lately, they appear particularly flaccid, as squishes, sellouts, and softies prevail.

Exhibit A: S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA). Sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), the legislation empowers states to impose their sales taxes on purchases made anywhere in the nation.

Pro-growth and tax-freedom activists lobbied heavily against the MFA. Their case was compelling. As Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist explained, if enacted, the bill would “undermine healthy tax competition,” create “real privacy concerns,” and be “only the first step in allowing politicians in another state to tax you in yours.”

Opposition forces failed, and with significant Republican support -- including the votes of Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), John McCain (Arizona), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), and John Thune (South Dakota) -- the MFA romped, 69-27. It faces a tougher path to passage in the House, but GOP “rising star” Paul Ryan isn’t opposed to universal taxation of Internet sales, provided it is “done the right way.”

On the spending side, Sen. Richard Shelby’s tutelage of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle offers proof that when it comes to home-state pork, Republican fedpols are as eager to spend as their Democratic counterparts. The Alabaman’s Rocket to Nowhere and its equally unnecessary capsule annually filch taxpayers for billions of dollars. But Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs her chamber’s Committee on Appropriations as well as the subcommittee that oversees NASA’s budget, thinks there’s no end in sight. “I’ll be very blunt: With Sen. Shelby as my vice chairman, we can’t cut Orion and SLS,” she told the Maryland Space Business Roundtable last month. “That’s the political reality.”

Compared to the Pentagon, America’s astro-crats are couch-cushion change. (The DOD’s space budget has exceeded NASA’s total expenditures since the early 1980s.) Yet pruning “defense” isn’t on the GOP agenda. In the House, the Armed Services Committee is chaired by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA). During a 2011 event at the American Enterprise Institute -- the Death Star of neocon chickenhawkery -- he made it clear that the military-industrial complex was the sine qua non of his political career: “If it came that I had only two choices, one was a tax increase and one was a cut in defense over and above where we already are, I would go to strengthen defense.” This winter, McKeon co-authored a piece for CNN with Sen. James Inhoffe (R-OK) that hysterically decried the “devastating cuts” wrought by sequestration’s tiny knife.

Are Republicans any better at the state level? Frequently, yes. (One word: Texas.) But when it comes to the Obama administration’s signature “accomplishment,” the news is discouraging. Many high-profile GOP governors -- notably Jan Brewer (Arizona), Rick Scott (Florida), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Rick Snyder (Michigan), Brian Sandoval (Nevada), and Chris Christie (New Jersey) -- have either tepidly or enthusiastically embraced Obamacare’s doomed-to-disaster expansion of Medicaid.

John Kasich, Ohio’s chief executive, was a fierce foe of Big Government while in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now that he’s in Columbus, federal spending is tolerable, as long as it covers the cost of putting 275,000 more Ohioans on Medicaid’s dole. Kasich’s a repeat offender. The governor, who’s seeking another term in November, has eschewed a right-to-work push in the Buckeye State. Worker freedom, evidently, isn’t as important as dodging “anti-labor” accusations during election season.

A thousand miles to the South, Louisiana’s governor has disengaged his bold plan to phase out taxes on personal and corporate incomes through a shift toward a system of consumption-based revenue. Bobby Jindal remains committed to the principle of his proposal, but grim polling data and business-establishment opposition forced him into a tactical -- and, one hopes, temporary -- retreat. Meanwhile, in Louisiana’s statehouse, Republicans are pursuing a package of tax hikes.

Unfortunately, activists and voters who favor deregulation, privatization, free trade, budget restraint, and tax relief can’t abandon the GOP. Crossing over to the Democrats is madness, and the third-party route is a fool’s errand.

In the struggle to turn the Republican Party into a weapon against the local-state-federal Leviathan, what’s needed is a resuscitation of the “Spirit of ’09” -- the vim and camaraderie and orneriness and creativity that prevailed during the early days of the Obama administration, and helped hand the president a thumping in 2010’s midterm election.

“When you can’t make them see the light,” Ronald Reagan advised, “make them feel the heat.”

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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