Congressional Republicans Cave — Again

The Obama administration has successfully painted House Republicans as mad, uncompromising Tea Partiers willing to push the federal government to default in pursuit of their extremist agenda. Of course, when Republicans cave on major spending issues, like the transportation bill, we hear little about it. This column was penned by an observer of the Washington scene whose sponsoring organization found it too embarrassing to publish. We run it here. — JAB

From left: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern and President Barack Obama. Photo credit: UPI

by Publius

Flanked by the leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL–CIO, President Obama in late August urged Congress to pass a “clean” extension of the surface transportation bill and a “clean” extension of the FAA bill “to give workers and communities across America the confidence that vital construction projects won’t come to a halt.” Joining this august assemblage were two federal employees who, confronting the temporary loss of a job, were on the podium to serve as White House hostages.

Two weeks later the leadership of the House of Representatives obliged the President by doing what he requested, and in the process effectively canceled one of the House Republican’s most significant initiatives to restrain spending and limit the scope of government.

Until that fateful Tuesday vote, the House was on track to make serious reductions in, and significant reforms to, the existing highway legislation that was enacted in 2005 under the leadership of former Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young. Instead, the House ignored its many pending reforms and spending limits and joined the President in embracing and extending for six more months what many analysts consider to be one of the worst pieces of legislation ever signed into law. Called SAFETEA-LU, that law was 2,000 pages long, and included 7,000 earmarks, including the infamous “Bridges to Nowhere.” SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009, but the absence of a replacement has led to several extensions of it since then, the most recent of which was set to expire at the end of September.

In the months leading up the expiration date the House majority had made many impressive changes in transportation spending and policy in ways that were well within the spirit of the new majority’s commitment to change the culture of Washington. The House Budget Committee recommended, and the House endorsed, significant cuts in transportation spending with a focus on wasteful rail programs. The appropriations committee incorporated these targets into their bill, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee produced an impressive five year re-authorization plan that cut spending by $50 billion compared to SAFETEA-LU’s totals.

All this progress, however, was cast to the wind when the House leadership did as the President requested and extended for six months – at higher levels of spending than the House had already agreed to for FY 2012 – the remnants of SAFETEA-LU. As was the case with the earlier dispute over the re-authorization of FAA and the effort to eliminate egregious subsidies for a handful of privileged passengers and sweet-heart contracts for unions, both sides held the program hostage in their effort to advance policy. But as past conflicts demonstrate, the President and his congressional allies were prepared to shoot the hostages. The Republicans were not.

One way to view this sorry outcome is that some Republicans are losing their will to fight for their policies against a determined President, his union supporters, and a do-nothing Senate. With recent fights on the debt limit and the FAA extension leading to uncertain outcomes, House Republicans seem farmisht from the relentless combat common to revolutions.

They also seem worried about the president’s embrace of the jobs issue, however wrong he may be about it. In demanding a clean bill, the President argued that 4,000 workers would be furloughed if Congress didn’t deliver. Congress did deliver, suggesting that it too may now believe that jobs come from more federal spending. If so, we have come full circle from President Reagan’s policies and are frighteningly close to 1971 Republican attitudes when President Richard M. Nixon said that “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”

Congress will be facing many more such fiscal challenges over the next few months, and some will be more intense than the highway extension they just gave up on. It won’t be easy, but many of the new members came to Washington to shake things up, and voters still expect that they will “Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,” reverse this sorry setback, and get America back on the road to fiscal sanity. We’ll all be watching.

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2 responses to “Congressional Republicans Cave — Again”

  1. the GOP is doing it to themselves… you can’t say we have a spending problem and advocate cuts and then not name the cuts.

    that’s what happened to the transportation legislation. They advocated cutting the bill – and having no more money spent than what gas tax generated but they did not have the courage to name the cuts needed to balance the spending.

    this pretty much describes the Republican behavior on the budget as a whole.

    Every since the Bush tax cuts – they have trumpeted to God above that we have a spending problem and we need to balance the budget but when the time comes to name the cuts needed to balance the budget they all hit the exits…

    and the real irony is that they BLAME the Dems for not naming the cuts – that the Dems don’t support anyhow…

    that’s how bizarre the Republican Party has gotten.. and what’s more bizarre is more than a few voters have supported them in their bizarre behaviors.. instead of demanding accountability form the Republicans.. they blame the Dems for essentially not doing ..what the Republicans promised to do.

    it’s whacko.

  2. No wonder they were embarrassed to publsh it.

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