The internal battle over earmarks in the GOP seems to be all but over. Republicans have decided to unilaterally disarm. There are still a few holdouts, but with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell caving on the issue, things are swinging the anti-earmark way. As a purple state resident, I see (a selfish) reason to cheer here. See, the bluer the state, the more money it pays to the feds in tax money. And the redder the state, the more money it takes out. I've written about it before; "In terms of federal taxes spent in their states, Mississippi gets 202% of every dollar they pay, West Virginia get 176%, Arkansas gets 141%, South Carolina gets 135%, and Kentucky gets 151%. The only state in the five wealthiest that receives more than they pay out is Maryland, at 130%." If you ban earmarks, then red states are going to see a lot less money heading their way and they're going to have to start living in the real world, where their screwy economic flateartherism is no longer subsidized by states with wiser policies. Have fun with that, guys. Enjoy funding your own projects with happy thoughts and good intentions.
Meanwhile, earmarks don't mean crap to the deficit. Earmarks make up less that 2% of federal spending, so eliminating them solves almost nothing. I hate to say it, but Mitch McConnell was right; banning earmarks is dumb -- especially for Republicans. Sure, projects like the "bridge to nowhere" are wasteful, but don't blame the process, blame the corrupt congress members gaming the process. Like a balanced budget amendment, this is a "stop us before we spend again!" measure. It's like putting the blame for running a red light on the lack of one of those railroad crossing gates at the intersection.
But hey, it's a free country. If they want to exercise their Second Amendment rights by shooting themselves in the foot, I'm not very interested in stopping them. As I said, it works out great for me. I should be seeing more Wisconsin tax money coming back to Wisconsin, for a change. States like Mississippi or Kentucky, you're on your own. The free ride is apparently over. Make sure to thank your various elected officials for that.
But if this intra-party battle seems to be going to the anti-earmark crowd, then a bigger battle is on the horizon. The Republican party has been using a schizoid "less government/more laws" messaging for decades and the contradiction has finally resulted in a party with multiple personality disorder.
In the months leading up to the midterm congressional elections, the tea party movement managed to tamp down on its internal divisions in pursuit of a shared goal of defeating Democrats. But with the elections over, the movement's fault lines are starting to show, and tensions between the tea party's social conservative and libertarian wings are poised to explode into an all-out civil war.
"It's easier for them to be united around the political agenda of defeating Democrats than it is going to be agreeing on a legislative agenda," observes Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way.
The article goes on to use an alliance between tea partiers and gay Republicans as an example. "Already, there are Washington insiders and special interest groups that hope to co-opt the Tea Party's message and use it to push their own agenda -- particularly as it relates to social issues," the coalition wrote in a letter to McConnell and House speaker-to-be John Boehner. "We are disappointed but not surprised by this development. We recognize the importance of values but believe strongly that those values should be taught by families and our houses of worship and not legislated from Washington, D.C."
In other words, while some conservatives are saying that now would be a good time to ban abortion and gay marriage once and for all, another faction is asking, "What part of that says 'small government' to you?" Government regulation is government regulation, they argue, whether it's of businesses and markets or whether it's of people's lives and private actions.
And some new Republicans are taking cutting sending seriously, which means taking on traditionally-sacred Republican cows.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concern Monday that some new Republican legislators would be defined by their "protectionism and isolationism," two views that the Vietnam War veteran feared would result in a butting of heads within the party on Afghanistan and defense spending.
"I think there are going to be some tensions within our party," McCain said during a conference put on by Foreign Policy Initiative, a DC-based think tank. "I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party."
A prime example, McCain continued, was Rand Paul, Kentucky's next U.S. Senator.
Paul has been skeptical that spending on Afghanistan is worth it and has said that we'd have to "look at military spending," as well as domestic spending, if we really want to reduce the deficit. This is most definitely not what the Republican establishment is about -- not after Reagan. The establishment wants to whittle away at domestic spending, eventually eliminating the social safety net, while the tea partiers and libertarians want to take a hatchet to everything.
Whether all this results in a genuine schism for the party is yet to be seen, but it may be a pretty safe bet to say the days of lock-step Republicanism are over. The bad news may be that neither side in the GOP argument is right, while the good news is that they'll spend a lot of time slowing each other down and limiting the damage.
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