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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Having It Both Ways

Now and then an issue comes along that really forces politicians to deal with the internal contradictions of their supposed principles. Today’s lopsided Senate passage of a $295 billion highway bill will provide a nice test for Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.Note for the record that the Bush administration has thundered for some time about the transcendent necessity of holding this bill down to $284 billion. And indeed, the implicit veto threat aimed at this bill–recognizing that Bush, well over four years into his presidency, has yet to use the veto pen even once–is the tiny fig leaf disguising the White House’s continuing devotion to fiscal profligacy of the highest order, as evidenced by still more demands for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and a Social Security privatization scheme that would add still more trillions to the national debt.Recall as well that in the recent campaign, Bush was treated by his handlers and his party as a Churchillian World-Historical Figure dominating the planet–a figure who presumably might have the clout to convince his hand-picked Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, to pare $11 billion from a highway bill ($12 billion of which, by the way, were for congressional “earmarks”).Yet Frist was one of 46 Republican Senators who voted for this bill. For the most part, these are the same folks who not only are insisting on more tax cuts for the wealthy, but who very recently were claiming that the fiscal situation required deep cuts in Medicaid and food stamps, affecting both the states and the most vulnerable Americans.The whole issue casts a large and useful spotlight on the contemporary GOP’s efforts to have it both ways on fiscal policy: supporting spending restraint in the abstract, but flip-flopping on any occasion when restraint might impair their image as Big Dogs in Washington capable of bringing home the bacon, or, worse yet, affect some Republican constituency.This will be interesting to watch.

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