Commentary

GOP Vote Buying

After Utah Republicans booted Rep. Merrill Cook in their June primary, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, declared: “The bad news is a Republican incumbent lost.” It’s certainly bad news for the American people, who will be stuck paying for GOP attempts to buy additional House seats in order to maintain power.

The more closely one observes the two parties in action, the more evident it is that they behave alike. Rather like in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the revolutionary pigs have morphed into the oppressive farmers whom they originally overthrew.

That Republicans care for little other than power is evident from Rep. Davis’ tears for the erratic and temperamental Cook and from the GOP’s desperate attempt to purchase votes wherever they might be found.

Earlier this year Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), whose honesty as well as stability is in some doubt, suffered a primary challenge that he blames on his party’s leadership. So at the end of June the Republicans shoveled $25 million for a new community center in Youngstown, Ohio, Rep. Traficant’s hometown, into “emergency” legislation covering Colombia, Kosovo and domestic disaster relief. Explained House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.): “We always try to help our friends.”

Traficant returned the love. As the bill moved toward passage, he complimented the GOP in a speech on the House floor. He later declared that Rep. Hastert is “a good man and I’m going to vote for him for speaker and I don’t give a damn who knows it.”

This is Republican principle in action: Loot the taxpayers to buy the speakership.

The GOP pushed through similar “emergency” projects for Reps. Bob Franks (R-N.J.) and Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), who are running for the U.S. Senate. In an earlier bill, the House voted $100 million for local fire departments, $19.4 million for New York’s lobster industry, and $2.2 million for a senior citizens center in Alaska to help members win reelection.

In May, a majority of GOP congressmen joined their Democratic colleagues in approving the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which provides roughly $2.8 billion annually, twice last year’s Clinton proposal, for federal land purchases - thoughtfully spread among every state. Leading Republican senators have opposed administration attempts to rein in the Army Corps of Engineers, a fount of pork barrel waste.

Although congressional Republicans pose as fiscal conservatives, they are bigger spenders than the Democrats on education, on medical research and on the military. The GOP is preparing another huge bailout for farmers, on top of $32 billion in agricultural expenditures this year, the most ever.

The 1996 Farm Bill projects spending over the following seven years at $42 billion and falling. Outlays will actually run at least $86 billion and are rising.

Indeed, between 1996 and 2000 the GOP Congress has spent $187 billion more than the Republicans promised when they assumed control in 1995. In its “Contract with America,” the GOP pledged to kill three cabinet departments and 95 programs with budgets in excess of $10 million. According to Cato Institute analysts Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski, outlays on these programs have actually risen 13 percent since 1995.

Despite their promise of honest budgeting, Republicans have proved to be consummate frauds. For instance, GOP leaders are attempting to shift Supplemental Security Income and veterans’ compensation payments due in October (FY2001) to September (FY2000), changing fiscal years and thereby freeing up more money to spend next year - after doing the reverse in 1999 to similarly evade official spending caps.

Moreover, last year legislators simply declared $35 billion in spending (to bail out farmers, fund the 2000 census, garrison Kosovo, and more) “emergency” spending, and thus exempt from previously agreed budget limits. Congress just used the same gimmick in voting another $11.2 billion in supplemental appropriations, of which the Traficant buy-off is part.

Nor do the Republicans have any shame. Last year the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a letter condemning the Clinton administration for wasting $2.2 million to repair the sewers of Salt Lake City - until it found out that Utah’s all-Republican delegation had backed the project. The letter was withdrawn.

The Democrats would be worse, claim GOP activists. Maybe. But that’s some campaign slogan: We promise to steal a little less of your money, use a little less of it to buy votes, and lie a little less while doing so. Vote Republican! The public should ignore the fevered pitches of the two major parties. Almost all of their candidates deserve to lose. Until Americans act like Hercules to clean the Augean stables of Capitol Hill, they will continue to suffer the kind of government that none of them deserve.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a member of the California and Washington, D.C., bar associations.