One complaint that fiscal conservatives have about President Bush is that it seems like he’s never heard of a proposal for increased spending that he couldn’t sign. His leadership on this issue has led our Republican controlled Congress (that once held the line on spending during the Clinton years) to obscene levels of profligate spending. Nobody has ever looked to the Democrats to reign in spending, but even some of them are squawking that we’re overdoing it.
This attitude doesn’t stop at spending, but also carries over into policy. Economist Michael T. Darda says here that Congress members (including Republicans) are jumping all over themselves in an attempt to implement socialist economic policies to deal with temporary price jumps resulting from temporary supply hiccups following Katrina. He hopes that our robust economy will make their proposals moot before the legislative process can be completed on them.
President Bush has now had to deal with two major catastrophic events during his presidency, each of which is turning out to be a defining moment in our national history. In the wake of 9/11/01, we have spent like crazy to wage a war against terrorism. As the country reels from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, we suddenly find ourselves spending multiple billions of dollars once again, this time for disaster relief.
Some who consider themselves constitutionalists or libertarians will argue that federal spending on disaster relief is unconstitutional. They may have a point technically, but history is not on their side, and most Americans agree that the federal government must bear much of the burden of recovering from the most catastrophic weather event in the history of our nation.
The thing that is missing here is some restraint in other areas of spending. John Fund notes here that both FDR and Harry Truman substantially cut spending when faced with national catastrophes. They even cut their own pet projects – and just about anything else that was considered nonessential – because they were determined to work for the national good. Pining for that kind of restraint and focus on the national good, Fund says, “Both of them, for example, would have known exactly what to do with the nonessential parts of the $286 billion bloated highway bill that has just been signed into law.”
We knew when W was seeking the Republican nomination in 2000 that he was no friend to tight government spending, but the magnitude of the spending bills he has signed into law and the levels of pork included in them are truly mind boggling. Our Republican representatives in Congress seem to have completely abandoned the fiscal restraint and small government platforms they touted a decade ago.
If hit personally by an event that required unexpected additional spending, most of us would immediately cut back on nonessentials. In the face of national catastrophes, our President and Congress seem to feel that not only should we spend to address the crises, we should spend even more than usual on nonessentials. Is a little fiscal responsibility too much to ask?