I spent the majority of last week in the north woods of Michigan at the family retreat that my father has put up for sale. It was a wonderful but sad time reliving my carefree youth with my father, brothers, son, and nephew.
One of the main reasons it remains a place of relaxation is that cell phone and internet access are sporadic at best, so it’s one of the last places I know of where you can truly “check out” from the real world (whatever that might be), and truly connect with family and nature.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and when I returned to the “real” world, the very first bit of news I encountered was an editorial in The Wall Street Journal about the newly passed Highway Bill. As always, Republicans and Democrats came together and passed a huge, underfunded bill loaded with entitlements and accounting gimmicks. (The vote was 74-19 in the Senate and 373-52 in the House, so this wasn’t a case of a few Republicans breaking ranks.)
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s Republicans love to run up the national debt as much as Democrats. (Go ahead and vote for Mitt Romney if you wish—just don’t get upset if he wins and a year from now and I say “I warned you.”)
Essentially, any good proposals were cast aside, completely unrelated and utterly unfunded entitlements such as student loan subsidies and the flood insurance program were tacked on, and the whole thing is “funded” with smoke and mirrors. To wit:
For decades, highways have been paid for out of a transportation trust fund financed with the 18.4 cents a gallon federal gasoline tax. Those gas tax funds have been dwindling, so Congress has begun to fund transit and road projects with money from general revenues—in a federal budget that is already $1.2 trillion in arrears . . .
. . . The bill pays for 27 months of highway funding with 10 years worth of revenues and spending cuts. This promise to “pay for” spending now with cuts in the future is a fiscal ruse Republicans denounced when it was used to finance ObamaCare, but they can’t resist using it to spend money on roads back home. This makes the funding shortage for highway projects more severe two years from now when the gimmicks expire.
And from Senator Rand Paul—one of the few sane members of Congress (a libertarian, of course), courtesy of the Mail Tribune:
“We have a shell game up here,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Friday before he voted against the bill. “We say one thing’s going to pay for it. Now this is going to pay for it. Money disappears.”
Also from the Mail Tribune:
“We’d all love to budget by pretending we can pull money out of thin air,” said Erich Zimmermann, a senior policy analyst for transportation at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington budget watchdog. “This is clearly going on the nation’s credit card.”
As for sensible reforms that were jettisoned, according to the Washington Post:
The original Senate transportation bill did two things that may seem minor but were actually quite significant, says Joshua Schank of the Eno Center for Transportation. For one, the bill shifted more money to fixing existing roads rather than building new ones. (Analysts have long argued that it’s more cost-effective to repair the roads we already have, but state and local politicians prefer new projects that come with shiny ribbon-cuttings.) That earlier version also would’ve established a new coordinated policy that linked up freight and ports. But these provisions have been cut from the final bill.
And that silly little Keystone pipeline? Also dropped from the final bill.
All in all the Highway Bill was a total cluster-bomb in which Republicans were eager participants. As the WSJ reported, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell called passage of the bill an “out of body experience.” Fox reports that John Mica (R-FL) calls it “the jobs bill for the 112th Congress.” With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?
I know that many of my readers are Republicans. I know that many will argue that things will be much better if Republicans gain control of the Senate and White House in November. But as a reminder, in the post-War era (until Obama, anyhow), deficits have consistently run higher under GOP presidents, and the only balanced budgets have come with Democrats in the White House.
My distrust of Republicans is borne of decades of failed policies supported by the GOP, and the Highway Bill is yet more evidence that my decision to abandon the two-party system for the arduous third party route was the correct one. Many GOP loyalists—and Tea Party types in particular—claim that they can “hold their feet to the fire.” You weren’t very successful with the Highway Bill, now were you?
So go ahead and keep voting Republican with the belief that they will turn the country around. All I can say is that if Romney wins in November (or Obama, for that matter), a place like northern Michigan—distant from the news of the world—will sound better and better to me.
This article is also published at http://countrythinker.com/home/.
I was among those in Ohio who lost power during last Friday’s storms. Although we got our power back yesterday afternoon, my son’s preschool is still closed, so I’m working with an energetice 5-year-old at home. My apologies if I am slow to respond to any comments.