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Let’s take a trip into the future, looking past Tuesday’s midterm election.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that, come Tuesday, the Republicans take both houses, in a stunning landslide not seen in more than a century. Let’s also assume that the changes in Congress are going to point decidedly away from the recent liberal policies of large government (by both parties). Instead, every indication suggests that the new Congress will lean heavily towards a return to the principles of small government, low taxes, and less regulation.
These assumptions are not unreasonable. Not only do the polls indicate that one or both of the houses of Congress will switch from Democratic to Republican control, the numerous and unexpected primary upsets of established incumbents from both parties — as well the many protests over the past year by large numbers of ordinary citizens — make it clear that the public is not interested in half measures. Come January, the tone and direction of Congress is going to undergo a shocking change.
Anyway, based on these assumptions, we should then expect next year’s Congress to propose unprecedented cuts to the federal budget, including the elimination of many hallowed programs. The recent calls to defund NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcastings are only one example.
When Congress attempts this, however, the vested interests that have depended on this funding for decades are not going to take the cuts lightly. Or to put it more bluntly, they are going to squeal like pigs, throwing temper tantrums so loud and insane that they will make the complaints of a typical three-year-old seem truly statesman-like. And they will do so in the hope that they will garner sympathy and support from the general voting public, thereby making the cuts difficult to carry out.
The real question then is not whether the new Congress will propose the cuts required to bring the federal government under control, but whether they, as well as the public, will have the courage to follow through, to defy the howls from these spoiled brats, and do what must be done.
The legislative situation with NASA over the summer and fall might give us a hint about whether the next Congress will have the courage to make the cuts that are necessary. In this case Obama actually proposed doing something close to what conservatives have dreamed of for decades: take NASA (and the government) out of the business of building rockets and spacecraft and pass it over to the private sector.
Moreover, despite the strong dislike the right has for Obama and his leftist policies, many conservative pundits both inside and outside of the space activist community publicly supported the President in this effort.
Nonetheless, these policies were not accepted by Congress. Instead, the legislative body passed an authorization bill that requires NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket and the manned capsule to go with it. Congress did this partly for national security reasons, but mostly because they wanted to protect the jobs in Houston, Florida, and elsewhere that NASA provides, and thus bring home the bacon to their constituents. And they did this because those constituents had squealed at them about the threatened loss of funding.
In other words, elected officials from both parties had teamed up to authorize this pork-laden program in order to keep the pigs quiet. In other words, NASA’s legislative history this past year does not give us an encouraging view of the future. It appears that Congress will give us the same-old same-old, when asked.
Let’s consider another issue, the recently passed healthcare bill. The public clearly didn’t want it. Moreover, polls continue to show that a large majority wants the bill defunded and repealed.
Many Republicans, both those campaigning for office as well as those in office right now, have firmly said that though they intend to introduce bills in the new Congress to repeal the bill, they recognize that this action probably will be a wasted effort, as they expect Obama to veto them. Instead, these Republicans say that if they gain control of Congress, they will start by first denying the program any funds.
But will they actually defund the healthcare bill, as they promise? Based on past history, no one should be optimistic. In 1994 the Republican Congress tried to severely cut the federal budget, including eliminating some long established programs. Rather than agree to these cuts, President Clinton shut the government down, figuring correctly that the public reaction would work to his favor. The resulting uproar over delayed benefit checks and closed national parks forced Congress to back down. Though Congress was able to successfully balance the budget for most the remaining years of the Clinton administration, the majority of the most significant cuts were never enacted.
When the new Republican Congress takes over in January, we should expect President Obama to emulate Clinton and do something similar, vetoing any spending bill that does not fund his healthcare plan, thereby forcing the government to shut down.
It is then that the pigs will really begin to squeal. And the noise will be far louder than when Obama tried to shut down NASA.
Will the new Congress be able to stand up to these squeals, or wimp out like the Republicans in the mid-1990s?
More importantly, will the voting public join the squealing pigs, as they did in the 1990s, to demand these programs be funded? Or will the public this time finally grow up and accept the fact that the federal government is bankrupt and simply can’t afford to give money away to every Tom, Dick, and Harry?
This is the fundamental question. And we will find out the answer sometime within twelve months.