In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration enjoyed unprecedented support and freedom to act. The threat seemed obvious. The world was sympathetic. The country rallied.The Administration used that opportunity to reorganize our country’s intelligence and law enforcement communities. It went to war against terrorism where it saw it, in Afghanistan and Iraq. It acted with Congressional approval, and the votes on those initiatives were a high water mark for bipartisanship in recent times.Those days seem a distant memory in some respects and like deja vu in others. Now, we are told that we are in the midst of another great crisis, this one economic. The economy is contracting, markets are plummeting, people are losing their jobs in record numbers.Some experts say there is nothing that government can do that will make any difference. Others say government is the answer.
The President tells us the situation is dire, that we have to do something to stem the downward spiral. Banks, investment firms, and businesses like the auto industry, are too big to fail. If they do, then we are all goners.
So, we have to spend trillions of dollars to bail them out and to stimulate our way out of a depression.
I don’t know if the President is right. Experts have been wrong before and I have my doubts about these. I worry if spending more money that we don’t have is really the solution to having spent a lot of money that we didn’t have. Are we just throwing good money after bad in the hope that it will make the problem go away? Won’t it lead to runaway inflation as we just print money? Or deflation because everyone will be too scared to buy anything?
I wonder why we should bail out industries and individuals that have made bad business decisions, or worse. Why shouldn’t we let market forces instill discipline by taking their pound of flesh? Why shouldn’t we at least claw back some of the obscene salaries and bonuses that executives paid themselves on the pretense that they were worth it because of the results that they produced?
The political parties agreed there was a need to stimulate the economy. They disagreed about how to do it. My party opposed anything that smacked of a social program spending spree. It favored tax cuts to put money directly in the hands of consumers and avoid government bloat. It presented a pretty unified front in the process.
The Democrats saw a chance for turnabout, an opportunity to resuscitate some of their long-neglected priorities. They produced a bill that was larded with pet government projects. A bill that aspired to increase the size of government.
If it were up to me, I would take time to better understand the problem and more precisely target the cause with temporary measures designed to achieve a solution that emphasizes private enterprise. Maybe declare a tax holiday. That would give hard working people some relief while they stimulate the economy. It would encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses and create jobs. Maybe take temporary control of banks and have them make credit available to small businesses. Spend stimulus money on neglected infrastructure. Rebuild our dismantled financial regulatory environment.
That’s because I believe that people are happiest when they are able to provide for themselves. That the best social program is a good job. And, that government’s role is to create and maintain the conditions that are conducive to that state of affairs.
But I am not in charge and neither is my party. The Democrats are. It is their prerogative to choose how to address the crisis and stimulate the economy. And there are credible arguments that funding government programs like unemployment benefits will be stimulative.
What is my role then? To profess shock that there has been gambling going on? To filibuster and obstruct efforts to address the problem?
As the loyal opposition, my role is to respectfully disagree. To work to see that conservative values are served the way that Senators Snowe and Collins used their leverage to trim fat from the Democrats’ original Stimulus Package. But, in the end, my role is to support my President because unity in the face of crisis is in the best interests of my country.
Even so, while the President’s program to combat the economic crisis may deserve more loyalty than opposition, his budget does not. It is an unabashed attempt to remake the country into a government-dominated society. That alone is reason enough to oppose it. However, it is also a breathtakingly expensive adventure that our sputtering economy cannot afford.
Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee. His column is published monthly.