Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Congressional Contradictions

James Skillen


October 11, 1999

Contradiction Number One: according to most Republicans, it is big-spending Democrats and federal bureaucrats, not fiscally conscious Republicans, who tie up the people in red tape and burdensome government. Why then does Congress need two more weeks to finish writing its appropriations bills for the new fiscal year? Because Republicans have not resolved differences within their own ranks over spending priorities.

Contradiction Number Two: as it stands now, even though Republicans have gone on record that they will not spend the budget surplus, their appropriations bills are already on the way to doing so. This contradicts not only their own vow but also their claim that it is the Democrats who want to spend the budget surplus on wasteful programs, while the GOP wants both to cut taxes and to reduce the federal debt.

Contradiction Number Three: Republicans continue to talk up family values even though some of their leaders proposed putting off payment of the earned income tax credit (EITC) to poor working families. Aren't Republicans the ones who want working families to stay together and even to have the option of keeping one parent at home to care for the children? Yes, but not if Congress needs a little of that money to help it balance a budget that increases congressional salaries and business-lunch tax-deductions.

Republicans are not the only ones who contradict themselves, you may protest. The Democrats are just as big interest-group crowd-pleasers and pork-barrel spenders. Don't put all the blame on Republicans.

To be sure, there is sufficient blame to go around. The president did not send a realistic budget to Congress at the start of the year. He and his congressional allies are playing cat to the Republican mice in trying to score political points. The fact is, however, that Congress, now led by Republicans, bears responsibility for writing legislation. If congressional leaders want to score political points against the Democrats going into next year's election, they ought to score honest, non-contradictory points by writing good laws.

Even George W. Bush, no enemy of tax cuts and no friend of unbalanced budgets, had to warn Republican members of Congress not to try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

Why can't congressional Republicans see what George W. Bush sees? The answer, sad to say, is that the law-making process continues to be dominated by special interests, not by leaders working together to serve the public interest. One Senator tries to write into a bill unnecessary defense spending as a way to produce jobs in his district while ignoring the State Department budget decline. Farm-state Senators and Representatives write in more than $8 billion in emergency relief for farmers, even though it contradicts the principles Congress established in the last two farm bills for a more responsible agricultural policy.

Growing disgust with government is not disgust with liberal Democrats alone. It is disgust with contradictory, pork-barrel-spending, interest-group-brokering members of Congress, no matter which party label they wear. There was a time when politics was thought to be the means to government. Now it appears that government is the means to politics. Don't ask congressional leaders what they have to show for the last few years of legislation. Ask them how their plans are unfolding for the next election.

As for the next election, let's look for a presidential candidate who shows evidence of being able to govern and not grovel, to tame interest groups rather than titillate them, to speak straight rather than sputter on in contradiction.

—James W. Skillen, Executive Director
   Center for Public Justice

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”