Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Republicans and the Pork Barrel

Josh Marshall had a recent post quoting the Boston Globe on the Republican Congress and the “pork barrel”. Here is the relevant paragraph:

Congressional conference committees, charged with reconciling differences between House- and Senate-passed versions of the same legislation, have become dramatically more powerful in shaping bills. The panels, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.

Conference committees are a key part of the legislative process in the U.S. The Globe article notes that Republicans disproportionately dominate them these days.

As Larry King says when he goes to commercial: “More to come”. And they call themselves fiscal conservatives.

There is more on this today from the Boston Globe.


All this is relevant to the matter of political reputation. The Democrats and the Liberals/NDP in Canada have, over the decades, had the reputation of being parties that favoured lots of government spending and big deficits (and higher taxes), while Republicans there and Conservatives here, are reputed to stand for the opposite. The reality of the last 10 years has been that the federal Liberals here and the Clinton Democrats have been the fiscal conservatives, while we have seen governments, such as the Harris Conservatives in Ontario and the Bush Republicans in the U.S., who continue to pay lip service to the idea of lower deficits while cheerfully doing little or nothing about it. What they really believe in are tax cuts whatever the consequences might be. This admittedly oversimplifies a complex reality (and has nothing to do with the merits of a Keynesian approach to fiscal management), but that is what reputations are: simplifications of reality.

I don’t think this newer brand of conservatism has yet altered traditional reputations, much to the advantage at the moment of the Conservatives/Republicans, but the reputations are built on perceptions that can change slowly over time given long enough exposure of the public to new realities. The public in Canada and the U.S. do like the idea of balanced budgets at the present time. This certainly helps the Martin Liberals. So far they are willing to forgive Mr. Bush his fiscal performance. However, his second term could test the limits of this particular reputation.

And all this would be thrown into turmoil if there were to be a deep recession.

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