September 13, 2004,
Now that senators and congressmen have returned from the political conventions and napping at pool side, the Republicans who control Capitol Hill have one more chance to distinguish themselves from Democrats.
While Iraq and the war on terror differentiate the parties, on domestic matters, it has become nearly impossible to tell them apart.
Republicans champion programs that Democrats love, such as cheap drugs for seniors, often appropriating funds that exceed Democratic dreams. The GOP actually unraveled the wool and mohair subsidy in 1996, but wove it back into 2002's $170 billion farm bill. The Heritage Foundation's Brian Riedl calculates that Small Business Administration funding has zoomed from $63 million in 1999 to $3.978 billion in 2004, a 6,181 percent increase!
The GOP promise of regulatory relief vanishes into an ever-receding horizon. Sadly, Republicans last April made matters worse. By banning ephedra, the Bush Administration became the first government of either party to prohibit a dietary supplement.
The GOP Congress should take three steps to unblur this picture and show voters that Republicans are not just Democrats with a muscular foreign policy.
First, since it seems too much to expect Republicans to cut spending, the least they can do is spend more wisely.
Hurricanes Charley, Gaston, and Frances (and, at this writing, perhaps Ivan) have hammered Florida and nearby southern states. As usual, Washington will dedicate emergency funds to assist Americans who are suffering the storms' aftereffects. While there may be a long-term answer to these perennial, weather-related expenditures (tax-free insurance savings accounts?), they won't help those who need repairs and brand-new roofs right now.
Congress should offer emergency funds only to Americans in presidentially declared federal disaster areas. Like loud, spoiled children in a taxpayer-funded supermarket, Republicans and Democrats in Congress use calamities far outside their own states as excuses to throw unrelated goodies into Uncle Sam's emergency shopping cart.
In July 2003, Citizens Against Government Waste reports, Congress took a $1.9 billion White House request for flood and forest fire-relief and larded it with $9.7 million for Michigan tree assistance, $20 million to fight the Mormon cricket in Idaho, Nevada, and Utah, and much more.
Assuming Republicans still believe in fiscal responsibility, they should send President Bush an emergency-funding bill devoid of money for communities that solely experienced these hurricanes via television.
Second, Republicans correctly chided a Clinton-administration regulation that limits the quantity of water in new toilet tanks. Consumers complain that low-flow toilets only use 1.6 gallons-per-flush, versus 3.5 gallons in traditional toilets. Dissatisfied with new models, homeowners actually have created a black market for older, Niagara-like commodes.
Republicans complained that this was none of Washington's business. But after much ballyhoo, the GOP Congress never dragged Uncle Sam out of the loo.
Congress should follow Rep. Joseph Knollenberg's (R., Mich.) advice and end federal intervention in this area. If Democrats object, let them get off their duffs and say so.
Finally, Republicans should remind Americans that their party routinely cuts taxes, while Democrats maintain and, too often, increase them.
While a karate chop to marginal tax rates is always a good idea, such a maneuver would be politically tough right now. However, eradicating a small but onerous levy would show voters which party lives and breathes tax reduction.
The federal telephone excise tax still appears on American phone bills. Congress imposed this three-percent levy as a temporary tax on the rich, incredibly, to fund the Spanish-American War. With the help of Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, America defeated Spain in 1898, thereby acquiring Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.
It's high time Americans enjoyed the peace dividend from a war that ended 106 years ago. Ditching the federal "talk tax" finally will let citizens forget this 19th-century conflict and instead focus on the future. Surely, Democrats agree with Republicans on this. If not, let them tell American taxpayers why they should keep financing a war that ended ten years before Henry Ford produced his first Model T.
If Republicans cannot enact these modest measures or similarly dramatize key domestic differences with Democrats voters might as well flip coins to choose which party to support for Congress on November 2.