Tuesday, June 1, 2010

They speak with forked tongues

It is always interesting to watch the small-government politicians and their small-government-no-taxes constituents scream for “guvmint” to provide money and clean up whatever catastrophe has recently happened. Many are now screaming for the Obama administration, including the military, to push BP aside and put a stop to the oil spill themselves (as if government has the expertise and the equipment to do so). Just a few months ago they were protesting “guvmint’s” interference in their lives as in “cut my taxes”, or “no taxes”, or “you shouldn’t make me buy health insurance” or “get off my back.”

Now they want mother government to take care of them – and for President Obama to go down there the moment the catastrophe happened to hold their hands and soothe their pain. It is interesting how the gulf-state conservatives' suddenly found respect for the powers and money of the federal government due to a catastrophe in their own backyard.

Case in point: Senator David Vitter (R-LA), a hardened foe of big government, posted an item on his campaign Web site about the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "I strongly believe BP is spread too thin," he wrote. He thinks it would be a better arrangement if federal and state officials would do the dirty work of protecting and cleaning up the coast instead of BP.

Then came word from the Pentagon that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi – governed by conservatives who believe in low taxes and limited government even to the point of not providing for good schools, roads, bridges, etc – want the federal government to mobilize more National Guard troops to aid in the cleanup (at taxpayer expense, of course). That followed an earlier request by the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, another limited government believer, who issued a statement saying he had called the Obama administration "to outline the state's needs" and to ask "for additional resources. These resources are critical."

“BP is the responsible party, but we need the federal government to make sure they are held accountable and that they are indeed responsible. Our way of life depends on it,” said Governor Jindal, a constant critic of big government. He is blasting the White House for not doing enough to stem the oil flow in the Gulf! This is the same guy who decried the government doing volcano monitoring. It seems obvious that what is really going on here is political calculation. Jindal’s ambitions have always extended beyond the bayou: He was not shy about blasting Obama’s stimulus package as “irresponsible” while accepting a large amount of the money. He also positioned himself as a responsible Republican voice on healthcare — dismissing the House plan as “radical,” but urging Republicans not to abandon the process.

Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi also have asked for more federal help. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama and George LeMieux of Florida, flew over the gulf with small-government Republican Rep. Jeff Miller (FL). Sessions, probably the Senate's most ardent supporter of tort reform, extolled the virtues of litigation against BP.

"They're not limited in liability on damage, so if you have suffered damages, they are the responsible party," said Sessions, sounding very much like the trial lawyers he usually maligns. "We're here to send the message that we're going to do everything we can from a federal level to mitigate this to protect the people and make sure when people are damaged that they are made whole."

"They're not too big to fail," Sessions said. "If they can't pay and they've given it everything they've got, then they should cease to exist." If you believe that the federal government will not be on the hook for a major part of the costs, perhaps you would like to buy a leaky oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Congressman Thad Cochran of Mississippi, a far-right leaning Republican, says he is making sure “the federal government is doing all it can.” Another limited-government conservative, Senator Roger Wicker, also of Mississippi, says he will “make sure the federal government is poised to assist in every way necessary.” All these limited-government guys expressed their belief that British Petroleum (BP) would cover all the costs of the cleanup – apparently unaware that the Congress put a limit on oil company liability years ago.

"We're going to have the oil industry folks, the BP folks, in front of us on the Commerce Committee," Florida's LeMieux vowed in the news conference. "We're going to talk about these drilling issues." Oh, but not before the taxpayer sends some more big-government money down to the small-government believers of the Gulf coast area.

These conservatives speak with forked tongues. They tell their constituents how government should only exist for defense and should not provide for the welfare of the people and then turn around and ask the federal government to spend taxpayer’s money to clean op the oil mess. Yet, their regions already get about 30% more money from Washington than they send to Washington – receiving much more than their counterparts in Democratic states.

An analysis of data from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation by Washington Post database specialist Dan Keating found that people in states that voted Republican were by far the biggest beneficiaries of federal spending. In states that voted strongly Republican, people received an average of $1.50 back from the federal government for every dollar they paid in federal taxes. In moderately Republican states, the amount was $1.19. In moderately Democratic states, people received on average of 99 cents in federal funds for each dollar they paid in taxes. In strongly Democratic states, people got back just 86 cents on the tax dollar.

Personally, I think we need big government, not just for defense, but to provide a safety net for all the people – and to be there when disasters happen. Although it is likely a temporary attitude, this ecological catastrophe has Gulf coast conservatives’ crying out for the aid and purse of the federal government – a timely reminder for all that government is necessary. As conservatives in Washington complain about excessive federal spending, the ones who would suffer the most from spending cuts are their own constituents.

Oh yes, they have forked tongues, indeed.