January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009 | Commentary on

An Ominous First Vote

Conservative solidarity was in short supply last week as the Senate cast its first vote of the 111th Congress. President Bush requested another $350 billion in bailout funds, the Senate passed a $12 billion bill to buy more public lands, and debate began over President-elect Obama's request for around $800 billion to stimulate the economy. Time to dig in your heels.

On Jan. 11, 66 senators voted to proceed to a 1,300-page, $12 billion lands package -- one defeated last July. It represents a stunning defeat for conservatives. The issue then was that Republicans weren't given a chance to freely offer amendments. The circumstances haven't changed, just the whims of the senators themselves.

Eleven Republican senators switched from opposition to support for consideration of the bill, including Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Robert Bennett (Utah), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.). Six freshman senators provided additional votes to consider the package, including Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

This pre-emptive surrender to liberal big spenders was a sign of just how little Washington has changed. "I smell the same stale air of good ol' boy, pork-laden, lobbyist politics," Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said. And, once again, the "World's Most Deliberative Body" refused to let Republicans amend a bill. The last time the Senate's minority party was allowed to offer an amendment was Sept. 10 of last year. To put that in perspective, more than 163 million Americans have had at least one of their senators effectively gagged by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

There is nothing positive for conservatives hoping for a cohesive minority or a benevolent majority. Observers expect that trend -- no debate, transparency or semblance of fiscal responsibility -- to continue.

So-Called stimulus

Congress is preparing for battle on President-elect Obama's so-called stimulus package. The package is expected to cost between $775 billion and $850 billion and contain $350 billion in tax measures. The Obama plan is expected to contain massive new transportation spending and billions for members' pet projects. In short, this bill will be a stimulus for lobbyists and pork-barrel pushers. According to Congressional Quarterly, the draft House bill has $80 billion in Medicaid funding, $85 billion in block grants for education, $35 billion for an extension of unemployment benefits, $25 billion for health care, local law enforcement, military construction and homeland security projects.

Why doesn't this simulate the economy? Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation explains that "government stimulus bills are based on the idea that feeding new money into the economy will increase demand, and thus production. But where does government get this money? Congress doesn't have its own stash. Every dollar it injects into the economy must first be taxed or borrowed out of the economy. No new spending power is created. It's merely redistributed from one group of people to another." Redistribution may stimulate spending for the guy who receives the money, but may cause a recession for the guy forced to give up the money.

The House Republican Study Committee has introduced a plan that contains no new spending and a 1% reduction in the 2009 budget (except for the Defense and Veterans' budgets). The RSC plan includes a 5% cut in income taxes for individuals and families and cuts the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%. The United States has the world's second-highest corporate tax rates, and the RSC measures taken as a whole would certainly provide permanent tax relief. Conservatives want tax cuts and government spending cuts to stimulate the economy by shrinking government.

Bailout, Part Two

Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have introduced a resolution to stop the release of the second $350 billion of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). "Before we write another $350 billion check, we must ensure that the money will be used effectively," Vitter said. "We cannot afford … to make any more mistakes." With President Bush declaring that he has "chucked aside my free market principles," it's now up to free-market-minded members of Congress to prevent a second $350 billion that could be used for just about anything the Obama administration wants.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

First Appeared in Human Events