Alex's Outlook

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Republican Dominance

While I can certainly sympathize with conservatives who are peeved by the $296 billion growth in spending during Bush's first three years, I am not unduly perturbed by it. As neocon David Brooks explains,
From now on, as Tony Blankley observed in The Washington Times, if you work at an interest group and you want to know what's going on with your legislation, you have to go to the Republicans. The Democrats don't even know the state of play.

If you are the AARP, seeking a benefit, you have to go to the Republicans. If you are a centrist Democrat like John Breaux or Max Baucus seeking to pass legislation, you have to work with the Republicans.

Under the leadership of Bush, Frist, Hastert and DeLay, the Republicans have built a fully mature establishment of activist groups, think tanks and lobbyists, which is amazingly aloof from the older Washington establishment (not to mention the media establishment). Republicans now speak in that calm, and to their opponents infuriating, manner of those who believe they were born to rule.

The Democrats, meanwhile, behave just as the Republicans did when they were stuck in the minority. They complain about their outrageous mistreatment by the majority. They are right to complain. The treatment is outrageous. But the complaints only communicate weakness.

Democrats indulge in the joys of opposition. They get to sputter about fiscal irresponsibility, just as the green-eyeshade Republicans used to, as the majority party uses the power of the purse to buy votes. They get to make wild charges. They get to propose solutions that ignore inconvenient realities. They never have to betray their principles to get something done, and so they savor their own righteousness.

Minority parties are pure but defeated; governing parties are impure but victorious. The Republicans are now in the habit of winning, and are on permanent offense on all fronts. They offer tax cuts to stimulate the economy and please business. They nominate conservative judges to advance conservative social reform and satisfy religious conservatives. They fight a war on terror. They have even come to occupy the Democratic holy of the holies, the welfare state. In exchange for massive new spending, they demand competitive reforms.

"Competitive reforms" is a little bit of a stretch. In return for about $2 trillion in spending over the next twenty years, conservatives got a tax shelter (health savings accounts) and the promise of a competitive "pilot program" in six metro areas starting in 2010. Some conservatives were infuriated by that; but I do think that the Republicans threaded the needle as much as possible between the more conservative House and the liberal-leaning Senate when they passed the bill. The end result was the most conservative bill that Congress could have passed, and Bush deserves some credit for that. If he had done the same thing with the farm bill, fiscal conservatives would be a lot less angry at him. At least the GOP can go back and "reform" the just-passed Medicare "reform" after the 2004 elections, since none of the bill's provisions are activated until 2006.

Anyway, it's not as if this alliance of Big Government and Big Business can last forever. The deficit is becoming a major issue in and of itself. If Bush is serious about reforming Social Security, he will have to borrow a lot of money, but the current deficit doesn't leave much room for that. Once the Republicans pad their majorities in 2004, they will have no choice but to cut government spending.

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