Commentary

Why Vote for Tweedle-Dum or Tweedle-Dumber?

When public indignation first boiled up against President Bill Clinton after the release of the Starr report, Republicans envisioned making large gains in the upcoming elections. But after passage of the budget, why should anyone vote Republican?

Before the GOP took control of Congress in 1995, one could still delude oneself that there was a reason to support the GOP. After all, Democrats were shameless big spenders, while Republicans posed as defenders of taxpayers. True, President George Bush governed more like a Democrat than a Republican, but eventual House Speaker Newt Gingrich talked about repealing the entire welfare state.

Yet what has been wrought by four years of Republican governance? Congress made meaningful changes in welfare, and then backtracked last year. The GOP proclaimed a revolution in agriculture; this year it conceded Democratic demands to lavish cash on farmers. Perhaps Congress’ most significant reform was killing the idiotic national 55 mph speed limit.

The Republican majority reduced, ever so very slightly, the increase in federal revenues, while making the tax code less fair and more complex. The GOP killed a few piddling programs while increasing outlays on most others.

The budget came into balance only because revenues have been rising swiftly, and military outlays have declined modestly - despite mindless Republican resistance - after the end of the Cold War. Domestic spending has actually risen $300 billion since 1995.


The performance of the GOP Congress on the budget demonstrates the truth of the late George Wallace’s adage: “There ain’t a dime’s worth of difference” between Republicans and Democrats.


The worst mainstays of the welfare state survive. It’s not just the huge entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, which thrive. It’s also the most sordid pork, like the transportation bill; in fact, GOP legislators more thoroughly looted the public than did their Democratic predecessors.

Equally offensive is corporate welfare - subsidies for business - which has grown under the Republicans. The Export-Import Bank, Market Access Program, OPIC and all manner of foreign aid prosper.

If the GOP Congress is not willing to kill funding for the International Monetary Fund, what is it willing to do? The IMF has spent five decades subsidizing authoritarian and collectivist regimes. The result is dependency and debt. Officials in Russia, the latest IMF disaster, brazenly admit that they “conned” the Fund earlier this year.

Indeed, the IMF demonstrates how the Republicans view compromise. The president demands massive new spending. The GOP agrees in principle, while arguing the details. Thus, the IMF gets billions more to waste, but will do so more transparently.

The federal government will lavish more dollars on education, long considered the premier responsibility of local government, but, chortle Republicans, localities will have some say in how it is spent. Uncle Sam will jump back into the agricultural business, but not quite as heavily as the Democrats wished.

In short, GOP compromise always means bigger and more expensive government. The Leviathan state not just lives but thrives with a Republican Congress. Why not leave the Democrats in charge?

In fact, the GOP would probably be more principled in the minority. Republican legislators would organize to oppose Democratic special interest initiatives; with the support of a few centrist Democrats, they could block statist initiatives, as they did Clinton’s proposal to nationalize the health care system.

At the same time, the GOP would not feel the need to “govern” by passing Democratic legislation: minimum-wage hikes that put unskilled workers out of work, piecemeal health care regulation that subverts medical care, tax cuts that increase federal social engineering, education programs that offer pork rather than learning. Minority Leader Gingrich would be a more effective advocate of limited government and individual liberty than has been Speaker Gingrich.

While there is no reason to waste one’s vote on candidates for Congress, some states host important referendums. In Virginia, for instance, the Legislature has placed two dangerous constitutional amendments on the state ballot.

The first would authorize the creation of regional governments with the power to tax and contract debt.

The second would allow such governments to issue bonds without a public vote.

These measures would open the fiscal floodgate for local politicos. Virginia’s Paul Revere is attorney N.C. Donnangelo, who previously battled the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, which sued county taxpayers in order to finance a county building that voters had rejected. But preserving popular control over government debt is a national issue, since more than $100 billion in bonds has been issued without voter approval.

The performance of the GOP Congress on the budget demonstrates the truth of the late George Wallace’s adage: “There ain’t a dime’s worth of difference” between Republicans and Democrats. If only candidates were on the ballot, people might as well stay home. But voters should turn out to block referendums, like those in Virginia, designed to give politicians even more power.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.