Loose Canons

The Conservative Backlash

George Bush’s political capital can buy us a smaller government.

By 12.5.04

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House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter is a hard-headed loyal Republican. But he's bucking the President, planting his feet across the tide of intelligence reform and saying, "Stop." All the whiny posturing by the Chicken Littles of the 9/11 Commission is intended to make us believe that if the gargantuan intelligence "reform" bill isn't passed immediately, OBL will soon be sitting in the Oval Office. But Hunter, who has his eye on the ball, isn't blinking at that or even at the President's personal intervention in the bill's behalf. What's going on?

The intel bill is a mess, and Hunter has listened to the objections of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and to his own son, a Marine lieutenant serving in Iraq. Myers, like all the high-level military chiefs, in order to be confirmed by the Senate, promised in writing that when asked for his personal opinion on something, he'd give it regardless of the position of the administration. Myers' personal belief that the intel bill would disrupt the flow of intelligence to battlefield commanders is enough for Hunter. And it should be for us as well. If that were all that's wrong with this bill, it could be fixed. But it's not.

No matter how many times Tom Kean, Jamie Gorelick and John Lehman say it, to say that there is no time to fix this mess before passing the bill is simply untrue. Whether it passes now or in March, the changes it makes won't take effect for months or years. Whether we delay it a bit will matter not one iota. But -- as politics goes -- we're only going to get one shot at this in the next several years, so it's essential to ensure that whatever bill passes hits the mark.

The bill's aim -- on who bosses whom and who has budget authority over what -- is off target. What matters is how the intel community has to be reformed and reorganized to improve what comes out of the pipeline and lands on the President's desk and on the laptop that a battlefield commander looks at while his men are under fire. If the President and national security team -- as well as the trigger-pullers -- don't get better, more reliable intel, none of the other reforms matter. Hunter has the right idea. But how dare he oppose the President? Though Hunter's action is unrelated, there is a conservative issue the President is going to have to deal with.

The budget deficit has reached the point that if any more zeros are added to it, no one will be able to pronounce it. Our President has done precisely nothing to shrink excess spending. The federal budget has increased by over $500 billion since Mr. Bush took office. Non-defense discretionary spending has risen about 36% since Lil' Billy left office. Congressional conservatives -- both old and new -- are aiming to give Mr. Bush a pretty hard time if he doesn't start down the path to reducing federal spending. If this sounds a bit like the beginning of a new Reagan Revolution, it should. Because that's precisely what is going on. The President should be leading this charge, not trying to withstand it.

WE VOTED FOR MR. BUSH because no thinking person could trust John Kerry to fight the war against terrorists and the nations that support them. In doing so, we didn't vote to fund the Franco-American Heritage Center, the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, therapeutic horseback riding, and a school mariachi music curriculum. The Omnibus 2005 spending bill includes them all, thanks to the porkers. The Heritage Foundation's list list of about 100 pork projects in that bill alone is infuriating reading. It's time for President Bush to use some of his electoral capital to cut the size of government and with it federal spending.

It's essential that the President do this in the first two years of his second term. After that, his political capital will be depleted, and the lame duck syndrome will set in. If he tries, Congress will try to convince him to concentrate his effort on reforming the budget process. But the budget process can't be reformed in a way that sticks. What Congress passes today can (and probably will) be changed tomorrow. Federal spending cuts should be focused where they have a better chance of sticking: cutting agencies, commissions, and the many other pestilences the government makes us pay for.

Even in the Good Old Days when the Gipper was in town, it proved impossible to rid ourselves of the largest of the unneeded and wasteful government departments. Some cabinet-level agencies, such as the Department of Education, do little more than spend billions of our tax dollars to benefit their constituencies, not the taxpayer. But they are too big to do away with entirely, as even President Reagan learned the hard way. Mr. Bush may be able to succeed in downsizing the government -- even more than Mr. Reagan did -- if he acts quickly. First, to set the stage and then to prepare for the '06 budget battle -- where the biggest cuts can be attempted.

After 9/11, President Bush told us to go about our lives as we had before. With Iraq still festering and the problems of Iran and North Korea coming to a head, it's tempting to say that the President should reverse course, and insist on non-defense budget cuts to fund the war and benefit the economy. But that would reduce -- both quickly and substantially -- congressional support for doing what we must to continue the war. There's a better way to set the stage for a big round of bureaucracy-slashing.

The President should direct the Office of Management and Budget to cull the federal budget of all the programs, commissions and special agencies that are "inside the Beltway" programs. There must be hundreds of them that could disappear tomorrow without Red State voters noticing any change in what the government does for them. Who, except for a few "performance artists," will bemoan the death of the National Endowment for the Arts? Who -- among those who don't traverse Havahd Yahd each day - would miss the National Endowment for the Humanities if it disappeared? Just what do the Administration for Children and Families, the Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy, and the Corporation for National and Community Service even do? If we have to ask, we shouldn't have to pay for them to do it. And, while we're at it, why is the Consumer Products Safety Commission still in business?

THE LIBS AND THEIR congressional porkpals will shriek at the mere suggestion that any pet rock they've tossed on the budget boat could be thrown over the side. But the libs have never been more vulnerable than they are now. How beautiful will it be to see them throwing themselves on their swords to save agencies that nobody gives a rat's behind about? Beautiful enough to pick up a bunch of Republican congressional seats in '06, methinks.

The President can make enormous progress toward reducing the size of government by hacking away at all the little federal fiefdoms the porkers have created. If he starts with the "inside the Beltway" crowd, he -- and the conservatives in Congress -- can get a taste for it. Next year, on to bigger game.

To prepare for Round 2, Mr. Bush should order a short-term analysis of agencies such as Education, HHS, HUD, Interior, Labor, and the rest. To reduce their budgets substantially, it will be necessary to cut their authorized activities, which Mr. Bush should prepare to try. If their programs can be cut -- by ten or twenty percent - billions can be saved, the deficit can be reduced, and our economic strength guaranteed for the next decade or more. Take a shot at it, Mr. President. When you take the oath of office some time before noon on January 20, it could be just another cold Washington day. But it could be morning in America, all over again.

TAS Contributing Editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery Publishing).

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.