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Republicans abandon their base--more government
Opinion Journal
We're All in the Same Bloat
September 20, 2005
After 11 years of Republican majority, we pared it down pretty good. I am ready to declare ongoing victory. It is still a process."--House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the federal budget

In the presidential campaign last year, Democrats were said to be counting on some misfortune--terrorists attacking on American soil, the Iraq War taking a turn for the worse, the economy going south--to help them beat George W. Bush. That didn't happen, of course. But now disaster has struck, and it's becoming increasingly clear that Democrats are better off for it. In ripping through the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina has peeled back the lid on Republican rule and many Americans aren't happy with what they see.

This isn't about a slow response anymore. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the ground, troops have restored order, and the water in New Orleans has long since begun to recede. President Bush and Republicans in Congress are now taking a hit not for when but rather how they have responded. And unless they change course, Republicans will pay a steep price in next year's midterm elections and leave Democrats in the driver's seat for 2008.

What President Bush, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other Republicans haven't figured out yet is that deficit spending isn't a problem for them unless it endangers the broader conservative agenda. If it does, it will become the electoral issue. And what we're seeing is that Katrina is swamping every goal conservatives have, from limiting government to cutting taxes to reforming entitlement programs. Katrina spending has already imperiled plans to repeal the death tax, and Congress is already $60 billion into a spending binge. Handing out $2,000 debit cards was just the beginning. The conservative Congress has brought back the welfare state.

This isn't all Katrina's fault. Republicans have been kidding themselves for years that they are still the stewards of fiscal conservatism and limited government. The Medicare prescription drug plan is just one example. Run down the list of the some 80 federal entitlements--including Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, Pell Grants and so much more--and it becomes clear that little has been done to take these massive programs off of spending autopilot. Welfare reform and Freedom to Farm in the 1990s were nice, but what has the GOP done lately? In many cases Republicans have ramped up spending and then bragged about it.

What we're seeing in the wake of Katrina is that despite all the winks and assurances to the contrary as they passed the energy and transportation bills, Republicans in Congress don't know how to control spending and are at a loss as to why they even should. That's one way to govern. But if Republicans no longer believe in smaller government, why not put the Democrats back in charge?

None of this is say that Katrina has hurt all Republicans and helped all Democrats. Louisiana's Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans's Mayor Ray Nagin--both of whom have D's after their names--have clearly failed as crisis leaders. We can expect voters to give them the boot next time out.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may actually mark the storm as the turning point that gives her a shot at elective office. She has the good fortune of being from the wrong place at what's now the right time--Alabama, a state hit hard by the hurricane. Staring down critics who claim the president didn't rush to help Katrina victims because they were predominately poor and black has raised her national profile and fleshed out some of her views on race, poverty and education.

Ms. Rice has gone domestic and surely is now on the short list to be any credible Republican presidential candidate's running mate. But why not Condi for president? She hasn't held elective office before, but if the nation comes under attack again, it's clear she has the backbone to do something about it. And that's about the only argument Republicans will have for continuing to be trusted with the reins of power after they jettison the rest of their agenda and adopt programs reminiscent of the New Deal and Great Society. Bankruptcy reform and a failed effort at Social Security reform just aren't enough to take to the voters, especially once the two Supreme Court vacancies are filled.

As it happens, there is still an opportunity for Republicans in the ownership society. President Bush's idea of giving away federal land in the hard-hit areas is a step in the right direction, as are private $5,000 accounts that evacuees can use for job training and child care until they get back on their feet. A bolder step would be to move forward with private Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security accounts. Federal policies that encourage and facilitate owning assets--especially a home--enable individuals to get off of public assistance and will be embraced by even moderate voters.

In the absence of such policies, however, conservatives will continue to be stampeded on spending.

Mr. Miniter is assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com. His column appears Tuesdays.

I enjoy how conservatives think. First, let's take a look at Rice. While the South was flooding, she was in NY shopping. It took liberal blogs harping on her for days and common citizens telling her to get back to work before she returned to Washington.

Now onto the bigger question of less government. If record deficits mean the GOP wanted less government then this author is more than a bit messed up. Under Bush the US debt has increased $2.2 trillion. No conservative can call that less government.

What really pisses off the conservative is giving "debit cards" to the poor instead of tax cuts to the rich. Or cutting the "death tax" which harms mostly very wealthy families instead of building levees that work. In other words, had the GOP had different priorities, building levees that work in New Orleans, instead of going to war for no reason in Iraq (both cost billion), we wouldn't have to spend hundreds of billions in New Orleans.

simplified further, if we still had the Clinton surpluses we wouldn't have to add any new money to the debt. But, alas the Clinton surpluses died as soon as the GOP had complete control of the government. They'll give us a thousand excuses as to why their policies failed, but excuses don't pay the bills or bring back thousands who died needlessly in New Orleans and Iraq.