The Fiscal Equivalent of Defining Deviancy Down

Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky may be the most unpopular man in Washington right now. And, as you may surmise, this means he is doing something admirable (envision Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and you’ll have the right context).

Republicans and Democrats want to rush through a bill to spend more money on everything from highways to healthcare to joblessness. Senator Bunning is simply saying that the new spending should be financed by reallocating some of the unspent money from the so-called stimulus. For this modest proposal, Bunning is being treated like a porcupine at a nudist camp, with both Republicans and Democrats expressing irritation that he is making it harder for them to buy votes with other people’s money.

I am delighted that Senator Bunning is putting some roadblocks in the path of bigger government, but this episode also illustrates how our hopes and expectations have been eroded. For all intents and purposes, Sen. Bunning is saying that if we want to waste money on A, B, and C, then we should not waste as much money on X, Y, and Z.

Even in the unlikely event that he succeeds, all Bunning will have accomplished to keep a bloated federal government at its current size, which is about twice as big as it was when Bill Clinton left office about nine years ago.

Whatever happened to getting rid of the Department of Education and Department of Energy? Who has a proposal to get rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development? Are any politicians even talking about getting rid of the Department of Transportation? Or Department of Commerce? I could go on, but I’m already getting suicidally depressed.

Three cheers for Senator Bunning, but it says a lot about the era of Bush-Obama profligacy that his very modest proposal is seen as a radical idea.