Spending in Washington is out of control, and “Red” states are to blame

Posted on May 19, 2011

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National concern over excessive federal spending has been the theme of U.S. politics in 2011.  America’s fiscal anxiety led to a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in January, budget negotiations that were resolved just minutes short of a shutdown of the government in March, and, currently, a debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling that could very well end with the United States defaulting on its debt in August.

Democrats have often countered the Republican party’s outcries over the deficit by pointing out the obvious fact that it was a Republican president who brought on the deficit with two wars, massive tax cuts, and a prescription drug plan for seniors that was not paid for.  But there is even further reason for Democrats to regard Republicans as hypocritical in their anti-spending clamor.

In 2005, the Tax Foundation released a study documenting each state’s amount of “Federal Spending per Dollar of Federal Taxes”.  The study revealed how much federal money each state spent annually per every one dollar it sent to Washington D.C. in taxes.  Since the report was last released, the Tax Foundation has not updated the data due to lack of funding.  Although the study is over half a decade old, its findings prove to be more pertinent to the U.S. political climate today than when the report first came out.

Despite the fact that “Tea Partiers” and self-proclaimed “deficit hawks” almost exclusively belong to or support the Republican party, only one consistently “Red” state (Texas) in the whole country pays more in taxes than it spends.  Every other state that voted for Mccain in 2008 is currently exacerbating a growing national debt that some Republican representatives have deemed to be a potential national security threat.  In fact, the bottom 15 states (i.e. the states that spend the least for every dollar in taxes they pay) all voted for Barack Obama in 2008, even though the Democratic candidate ran on a platform of increased government spending and higher taxes for the rich.

It is to be expected that certain states will spend more than they pay while others pay more than they spend. Government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment benefits are forms of social insurance: they are not meant for everyone, only senior citizens and those who fall into the most unfortunate of circumstances.  Clearly, richer states, such as New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and California, can count on paying more in taxes and benefitting from this social insurance less than poorer states, such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.  The question is, why do more Tea Partiers (i.e. those belonging to the movement against “government hand-outs”) come from states of the latter category and why do those states all vote Republican?

Take a look at the list of U.S. states ranked by median household income:  the ten poorest states in the country are all Republican strongholds, as not a single one of them has gone Democratic in a Presidential election since 1996.  Yet almost every Republican in both houses of Congress is staunchly against Obama’s plan to allow the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% of the country to expire in 2012, despite the fact these tax cuts mostly benefit people who live in Democratic states.

These facts highlight a symptom of the Republican party that becomes more and more manifest with each passing election cycle:  the party depends monetarily on corporate conservatives and electorally on “values voters”.  Because these groups are largely dissimilar, walking the line between the two is the true art of being a Republican politician in the 21st century.

Take Wall Street Reform, for instance: in their efforts to make the Bush tax-cuts permanent and limit regulation on Wall Street banks, Republicans are clearly more concerned with pleasing their most magnanimous campaign donors than pursuing the interests of the majority of their voting constituents.  Of course, they sell the ideas to their constituents by artificially veiling the policies with terms like “pro-business” so as to seem as though they are solely concerned with creating jobs for middle-class Americans.

Meanwhile, regarding “values voters”, Republicans are able to convince poorer Americans to vote against their own financial interests by exploiting anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, and other ultra-conservative sentiments held predominantly by voters in southern states.  In February of this year, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels suggested Democrats and Republicans call a “truce” on social issues until the country had its debt problems figured out.  He was unanimously excoriated by myriad Republican leaders, including Mike Pence and John Boehner, because a Republican party without its fervent religious base would never stand a chance to defeat President Obama in 2012.

Some might jump to label my analysis of the Republican party and its core constituencies as cynical, but Republicans themselves have in fact admitted to basing their fundraising strategies on this split-party dilemma.  In 2010, Politico leaked a copy of a Power Point presentation delivered by RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart at an RNC retreat for major Republican party donors.  The presentation spelled out the Republican agenda for campaign fund-raising in rather cynical (i.e. honest) terms. According to Politico:

The most unusual section of the presentation is a set of six slides headed “RNC Marketing 101.” The presentation divides fundraising into two traditional categories, direct marketing and major donors, and lays out the details of how to approach each group.

The small donors who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary.”

So Republicans view their very own base constituents as “Reactionary” and prone to voting/donating money based on “fear”.  Is it any wonder, then, why prominent Republican politicians chose to propagate rather than debunk the myth about “death panels” in Obama’s healthcare bill during that heated summer of 2009?  During that debate, a sign was seen at a Tea Party rally calling for the government to stay out of Medicare.  Republican representatives never once rebuked or even corrected such ignorance, mainly because they were content with fear playing such a large role in the national discussion.  The less these protesters knew about the beneficial role of government in their own lives, the more people like Michelle Bachman could demonize the federal government as a tyrannical and oppressive entity that was separate from “the American people”.

History has proven time and again that a democracy can only work if the citizens are well-informed.  It is wrong for Republicans to paint themselves and their constituents as the individualist, self-reliant, Ayn Rand objectivists of the country, when it is both Republican policies of the last ten years (foreign and domestic) and Republican states that have contributed most to bringing about our current debt crisis.  Republican politicians tactfully gain the trust of “values voters” by advocating against abortion or gay rights, and then they use the trust to convince these people to vote against the interests of middle-class and lower-class Americans.  Certainly, no good for the country can come from politicians exploiting the uneducated by advocating unproven economic theories and professing half-truths.  It was in fact quite ironic that Mr. Bickhart, a leader of the party that so often invokes the words of our founding fathers and original Constitution, used the word “fear” in describing his funding strategy, as it was John Adams who once wrote in 1776:

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

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