September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009 | Commentary on Federal Budget

The Crashing Liberal Agenda

After an adventurous and, at times, treacherous August recess, lawmakers return to Washington, D.C. this week. Liberals hope to jumpstart the President's agenda, which has stalled because public support for his big-ticket initiatives has crashed. The swing in public sentiment can be seen in President Obama's approval rating, which is hovering around 50 percent. Despite a steady diet of mainstream media news stories cheerleading for Obama Care and cap-and-tax energy policy, the liberal agenda is on life support.

Obama now intends to launch a counter-offensive that will begin with an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. That speech will reportedly focus on Obama's strategic shift on health care. The White House also plans new attacks on Wall Street, a public discussion of the war in Afghanistan and perhaps even another push on so-called climate change legislation. Conservatives would be wise to keep up the pressure on any politicians who are tempted to ignore the opinions expressed at town halls and make sure they don't vote for policies that would grant President Obama expanded powers.

Small Steps to Big Government

While the nation and many political observers are transfixed on the health care and global warming debates, the House and Senate will be busy mudding the waters of prosperity with several other important legislative items.

This week the Senate will try a third time to pass The Tourism Promotion Act. The innocuous sounding legislative would actually tax foreign visitors who enter the country on the Visa Waiver Program and use the funds to set up yet another government entity that would promote foreign travel to America. The program is wrong on many levels: it would create an inefficient and bureaucratic public-private partnership; use a national security system for non-security purposes; and impose an additional burden to potential tourists.

The Senate will also work on the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. With next year's deficit projected at $1.5 trillion, you might assume lawmakers would work to hold the line on spending. Wrong.

This year's funding bill represents a nearly 13 percent increase over last year's appropriation. Then there are the earmarks. $2.5 million to promote astronomy in Hilo, Hawaii. $1 million for the Jobs for Delaware Graduates in Dover, Delaware. $750,000 for technology and security infrastructure at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. The recession can't touch pork barrel spending.

For its part, the House will probably do a few suspension bills that name Post Offices, grab federal land and congratulate the Little League World Champions from Chula Vista, California.

Wheeling and Dealing (and Stealing Freedom)

It's ironic that liberals are becoming the victims of their beloved self-imposed deadlines for just about every major priority. Liberal reforms of health, energy and labor laws are on the verge of collapse as public sentiment has shifted away from President Obama's priorities. Conservatives are understandably eager to embrace this new political environment, but they must remain vigilant and avoid any potential "compromises" that hand liberals a major policy victory and deal a blow to economic and personal freedom.

If liberals are willing to take an incremental approach to health care, they could jettison the Public Plan and settle for new regulations and tax increases to pay for the subsidies that would be necessitated by a government mandate to purchase health insurance. Giving liberals 75 percent of their agenda and the framework to implement the rest wouldn't be a compromise; it would be a recipe for a complete government takeover in the future.

Liberals may also try to strike a compromise on their war against carbon emissions and global warming (even though the planet's cooling). Conservatives should make absolutely clear that a cap-and-trade regime on power plants or a renewable electricity standard are not acceptable. Both would raise the cost of energy, especially to states that depend heavily on coal (think West Virginia, Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri). Conservatives should also reject a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which would increase our independence on Middle Eastern oil and be tremendously expensive.

If liberals win a legislative victory, it may come as a handout to organized labor. Although card-check and first contract binding arbitration seem unlikely to pass, there are several other legislative changes unions would gladly accept. Mail-in ballots could provide an opportunity for fraud and intimidation. Snap elections would deprive employees the opportunity to make informed choices. And forcing workers into multi-employer union pension plans that are severely under-funded would hurt workers who currently have more secure retirement plans.

In short, conservatives should be wary of compromises and half-measures, especially those crafted behind closed doors at the behest of special interests. The American people would be the big losers in most negotiated agreements between the Republicans and Democrats.

Understanding August

Ultimately this fall's legislative agenda will be shaped by what lawmakers brought back to Washington, D.C. from their constituents after a month of angry town hall forums. The big question for lawmakers is whether they believe the pro-freedom, anti-government sentiment was organically grown from the grassroots up, or whether it was some Astroturf plot organized by the conservative equivalent of MoveOn.org.

If they assume the latter, they will have grossly misjudged the public sentiment and they will risk defying their constituents on a host of major and minor issues this fall.

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