Daily Archives: March 19, 2009

Commentary: GOP’s "small government" talk is hollow

By Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

note: Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. His new book, “Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security — From World War II to the War on Terrorism,” will be published this fall by Basic Books. Zelizer writes widely on current events.

PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) — As the budget debate heats up, Republicans are warning of socialism in the White House and claiming that Democrats are rushing back to their dangerous tonic of big government.

Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rush Limbaugh warned that “the future is not Big Government. Self-serving politicians. Powerful bureaucrats. This has been tried, tested throughout history. The result has always been disaster.”

On CNN, former Vice President Dick Cheney said he is worried that the administration is using the current economic conditions to “justify” a “massive expansion” in the government.

After the past eight years in American politics, it is impossible to reconcile current promises by conservatives for small government with the historical record of President Bush’s administration. Most experts on the left and right can find one issue upon which to agree: The federal government expanded significantly after 2001 when George W. Bush was in the White House.

The growth did not just take place with national security spending but with domestic programs as well. Even as the administration fought to reduce the cost of certain programs by preventing cost-of-living increases in benefits, in many other areas of policy — such as Medicare prescription drug benefits, federal education standards and agricultural subsidies — the federal government expanded by leaps and bounds. And then there are the costs of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Federal spending stood at about $1.9 trillion in 2000, when Democrat Bill Clinton ended his presidency. In his final year in office, Bush proposed to spend $3.1 trillion for fiscal year 2009. President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2010 is $3.6 trillion.

Nor can Republicans blame a Democratic Congress for being responsible for these trends. Much of the expansion took place between 2002 and 2006, when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes was writing about “big government conservatism” back in 2003.

Two years later, the right-wing CATO Institute published a report noting that total government spending had grown by 33 percent in President Bush’s first term, lamenting that “President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson.”

There were some areas where Bush backed off government cuts because programs were too popular, like Social Security. In other areas, like federal education policy and prescription drug benefits, the president seemed enthusiastic about bigger government.

Bush and Cheney also embraced a vision of presidential power that revolved around a largely unregulated and centralized executive branch with massive authority over the citizenry. This was a far cry from the days of Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, a Republican who constantly warned about the dangers of presidential power to America’s liberties.

After the 2008 election, Cheney was not apologetic. He explained that “the president believes, I believe very deeply, in a strong executive, and I think that’s essential in this day and age. And I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they’ll find that given a challenge they face, they’ll need all the authority they can muster.”

Importantly, the marriage between conservatism and a robust federal government was not unique to the Bush presidency. The roots of Bush’s comfort with government can be traced to the Republican Right in the 1950s, members of Congress who called for an aggressive response to domestic and international communism.

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were two Republicans who pragmatically accepted that Americans had come to expect that the federal government would protect against certain risks and that trying to reverse politics to the pre-New Deal period would be politically suicidal.

“Should any political party,” Eisenhower said, “attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”

When Nixon and congressional Republicans battled with Democrats over Social Security between 1970 and 1972, the debate revolved over how much to expand the program. Congressional Democrats wanted to increase benefits through the legislative process, while Nixon wanted to index benefits so they automatically increased with inflation.

Nixon and Congress did both.

President Reagan backed off his most ambitious efforts to cut government, most dramatically when he abandoned his proposal to curtail Social Security after facing a fierce backlash, while the military budget boomed. President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which was one of the boldest regulatory expansions of government since the civil rights laws of the 1960s.

All of these presidents, particularly Nixon and Reagan, likewise promoted a muscular vision of presidential power that strengthened the authority of government and introduced concepts, such as the unitary executive, which would become the intellectual underpinning of the Bush administration.

“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Nixon told David Frost in 1977. Like it or not, strengthening the presidency is one of the most important ways in which the role of government has grown since the nation’s founding.

Fifty years of American history have shown that even the party that traditionally advocates small government on the campaign trail opts for big government when it gets into power. The rhetoric of small government has helped Republicans attract some support in the past, but it is hard to take such rhetoric seriously given the historical record — and it is a now a question whether this rhetoric is even appealing since many Americans want government to help them cope with the current crisis.

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Filed under CATO Institute, CNN, Congressional Democrats, Dick Cheney, Julian E. Zelizer, New Jersey, Princton University, Rus Limbaugh, small government, Social Security, the GOP

Sunshine Award goes to Sean Brynes and Pat Short

From Pat Walsh’s Middltown Musings

Democratic Township Committeemen Sean Brynes and Pat Short are to be honored with the “SUNSHINE AWARD” during this sunshine week for their successful efforts at shedding light on the Middletown Township Committee agenda.

Sean authored the resolution which sought to put the agenda material on the website . Not only did they convince there fellow committee members to approve the resolution, they have also managed to have a binder containing the agenda material placed at the meeting as well. For their combined support of bringing the sunshine law to life in Middletown they are to be commended.

Considering that Middletown residents have been left in the dark for the past 20 years by the GOP this is an astounding feat. On Monday nights agenda was a “resolution for the expenditure of funds” with no amount listed and no idea what the funds were being expended for. That method of hiding how they spend out tax dollars has finally ended thanks to their efforts.

I have to caution all of you that I still remain somewhat skeptical that the majority will adhere to the spirit of the law and this resolution. The GOP Majority has a nasty habit of dropping resolutions on the agenda and the democratic committeemen as they are literally walking in the door to a meeting.

I will wait to see how they live up to this ordinance before I will be convinced.

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Filed under committee agenda, Middletown, Middletown Democrats, Patricia Walsh, Patrick Short, Sean F. Byrnes, sunshine laws

Middletown to put proposed resolutions online

From yesterdays Asbury Park Press – comment to follow:

Residents soon may be able to read the details of proposed resolutions and ordinances before attending Township Committee meetings. But once a meeting begins, a new ordinance will regulate how they can record the proceedings.

Officials plan to speak with at least one volunteer who has said he is willing to scan copies of the proposed resolutions and ordinances onto Middletown’s Web site the Friday before a Township Committee meeting, said Anthony Mercantante, the township’s administrator.

During its meeting on Monday, the Township Committee voted unanimously to institute the new online policy.

For months, Committeemen Sean Byrnes and Patrick Short advocated for the information to be posted on the Web site, saying it would allow residents to be better informed before attending meetings. Currently, only a one-sentence description of each proposed resolution or ordinance is posted on the site.

But Township Clerk Heidi Abs repeatedly said her office was already overwhelmed with work and could not find the time to do the scanning without additional manpower.

Bernard Reilly, Middletown’s former township attorney, had also said there could be legal issues in posting information that could be withdrawn or amended before the start of a meeting.

During a committee meeting earlier this month, Mercantante suggested hiring a part-time employee to do the scanning. But Short said it made more sense to find a volunteer to do the work.

“We’re talking about someone scanning documents for a couple of hours twice a month,” Short said on Tuesday.

Mercantante hopes someone will be trained and able to do the scanning in time for the April 6 Township Committee meeting.

Also on Monday, Middletown Township Committee voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance that prohibits residents from using video devices — including cell phones — to record the meeting from the room’s front half when there are more than 30 people in the room.

Township Committeeman Anthony Fiore — who voted to approve the ordinance along with Mayor Pamela Brightbill and Deputy Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger — said its objective is to prevent video equipment from getting in the way of people who wish to see what is going on.

“I don’t think any of us object to anybody videotaping the meetings,” Fiore said.

Byrnes said he does not understand how someone using a handheld camera while sitting on one of the room’s benches could pose an obstruction to someone else.

After Scharfenberger said he had received several complaints, Short asked him to enumerate them. Scharfenberger did not answer.

“We just put something in law just speculating that there will be a problem,” said Short, who noted that the only person he had ever seen recording meetings was Patricia Walsh, a Middletown Board of Education member who unsuccessfully ran against Brightbill and Fiore in 2008.

During the meeting, Walsh commended Township Committee for approving the new online policy but criticized members for the video recording ordinance.

“If I were grading you on open and transparent government, I’d give you an F,” Walsh said.

 I assume that the resolutions are typed on the computer. why can’t they just be copied and pasted to the Web site instead of printed and scanned back in by a volunteer? 

As for the video taping or recording of meetings, the ordinance that past on a strictly party line vote is an obvious attempt at trying to stop people from their rights to information. It is interesting that when pressed by Patrick Short, Deputy Mayor Scharfenberger could not or would not name one resident that complained about being distracted from the proceedings due to  Pat Walsh videoing them. It is a clear sign of partisen politics at its worst.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Middletown, Middletown Democrats, online policy, Patricia Walsh, Patrick Short, resolutions and ordinances, Sean F. Byrnes, sunshine laws, Video taping or recordings

A New Foundation for Growth

President Obama talks about his budget and asks you to get involved by making calls and talking to friends and neighbors.

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Filed under affordable education, Budget, clean energy, Foundation for Growth, Health Care, President Obama