Moderate Republicans, tea baggers and Party extremists all share a common love of big government, against which they protest too much, methinks. All strongly support a vigorous national defense ($718 billion), Health and Human Services (including Medicare, $900 billion) and Social Security ($780 billion), which combine to a sum of $2.4 trillion out of a total federal budget of $3.8 trillion. The sum all of these government programs comprise 63% of the entire federal budget.
We have other conservative favorites, including: National Science Foundation ($ 6 billion), law enforcement, including border patrol ($60 billion), and farm subsidies ($17 billion) that mainly go to red states. Those total $83 billion.
Ah, but we are not done. The government is also shelling out $200 billion in interest payments on debt created under President Bush (taken from the budget of 2009). That brings total government spending that has widespread Republican backing to $3.2 trillion, out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion, or 84 percent. (All of these figures come from the Office of Management and Budget.)
Understand then that Republicans actively support and defend 84 percent of the big government they so thoroughly disdain. The GOP believes a budget of $3.2 trillion is virtuous but is outraged by a budget of $3.7 trillion. Even if Democrats supported 100 percent of the federal budget (they do not), gathering up righteous indignation about the remaining 14 percent hardly constitutes an ideological divide between big and small government.
But really the hypocrisy of the GOP position on big government is deeper than just the obvious inconsistency with budget dollars. Republicans rant about government interference as a tired campaign fixture ... until they call for government interference. After 9/11, the first Republican instinct was to expand the federal government. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security and the position of a new intelligence czar. Bush did not talk about small government when he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. The demand for small government comes quickly when public spending supports a Democratic agenda, but is swept swiftly under the rug whenever Republicans turn to the government for help.
Perhaps big government is acceptable only when issues of national security are at stake? No, the GOP position is nothing that principled. BP's tiny mishap in the Gulf proves the point. Conservatives who railed against environmental and safety regulations now demand that the federal government "do something," appealing ironically to the very institutions they seek to neuter. As oil oozes onto Gulf Coast beaches we see no Republicans chanting Reagan's favorite phrase, "government is part of the problem, not the solution." Facing catastrophe, the government is suddenly the solution after all. The phrase "there are no atheists in a foxhole" is nonsense (there are plenty), but the adage suggests something more interesting: "there are no conservative Republicans on an oil-stained beach."
As oil pours relentlessly into the sea, Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has no problem "demanding" a stronger response from the federal government, the same federal government that he wants to leave him alone. The responding agencies would be those for which Jindal has previously had nothing but pious disdain as examples of the worst of government interference, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Let us remember what Jindal said in his response to Obama's first State of the Union Address:
"To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians. The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything." Perhaps that does not apply to BP's ability to stop the leak.
He went on to mock federal spending for programs like "the $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.'" We did not hear from Jindal after Iceland's spewing volcano disrupted global commerce for weeks and cost the airline industry hundreds of billions of dollars.
Sadly, Jindal is no anomaly of inconsistency; he has plenty of company. A Republican state senator from Alabama, Ben Brooks, said he expects an aggressive response from the federal government as BP continues to soil the ocean. In the next breath he said, "There's nothing inherently contradictory in saying we believe in smaller government and demanding that the government protect public safety." Yes. There. Is.
That is like me asserting that I see no contradiction in stating that I am an atheist but calling on god whenever the need arises. Brooks does not seem to understand the basic math that if you refuse to pay taxes to support a local fire station near your home, the fire trucks will not be nearby when flames start licking at your feet. Instead, Brooks believes the fire trucks should be standing by near his house at all times, but someone else should pay for that state of readiness. Through the looking glass we go.
Falling deeper down the rabbit hole, we see that the GOP's inconsistent and hypocritical response to the Deep Horizon disaster is just a drop in the oil plume. Lurking beneath the surface of accountability is a spreading ooze that hides a cabal of Republicans who publicly condemn federal spending while doing everything in their power to spend federal money. No better example of this exists than the deep contrast between Republican condemnations of Obama's stimulus package and their subsequent actions to grab as much of the money as possible.
Republicans loudly dismissed the stimulus package as Democratic excess while privately approving of the measure and working to ensure the funds flowed to their districts. After voting against the package, "You Lie" Joe Wilson (R-SC) said of locals who would use the stimulus money, "We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment" in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack pleading for a piece of the stimulus pie. Robert Bennett (R-UT) issued a public statement on February 13, 2009, harshly criticizing the plan; what he did not say is that two days prior, he also contacted Vilsack with a long list of projects he wished to fund with stimulus money. His plea included the statement that "I believe the addition of federal funds to these projects would maximize the stimulative effect of these projects on the local economy." Even by the low standards of politics, this level of deceit and willful disregard for dignity is astonishing.
And we come full circle back to Jindal. The governor proudly assumed the title of fiscal conservative in rejecting on principle some (not all) federal stimulus money. Then with the unabashed hypocrisy only possible in politics, he distributed the stimulus funds he did not reject by proudly handing out federal money to local officials. To make matters worse, if that is possible, Jindal used oversized cardboard checks like you see on creepy television commercials for winners of the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.
So how did Republicans respond as the stimulus money they publicly vowed to fight but secretly sought hit the streets? Before we answer that question, remember that Obama's stimulus package passed without one single Republican vote in the House and only three in the Senate (one of whom, Arlen Specter, later switched parties). So now the answer: Republicans shamelessly took credit for the success of the stimulus package to which they so violently objected. The worst hack of a fiction author could not make this stuff up. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) called the package a "large-scale failure." Yet within a few weeks of that assessment he lauded the program as "critical" to residents of Frankford, MO, who benefited from grants of $330,000 and $313,900. He also requested $100 million for Missouri road projects. Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Republican Whip, sponsored a job fair that, ironically, consisted of jobs created by the stimulus package he voted against. More than a dozen Republicans submitted requests to the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service, pleading for stimulus dollars. The most egregious example of talking out of both sides of one's mouth comes from Geoff David (R-KY) who sent out a press release claiming the stimulus package "failed." But that same day he proudly took credit for $1 million from the stimulus program for Carroll County schools, noting that "I am pleased that our office was able to assist them in obtaining these funds."
So, finally, let us be crystal clear: Republicans absolutely love big government. Republicans supposed disdain for big government is an Orwellian Big Lie advanced to obscure the opposite reality. The GOP has demonstrated consistently a great fondness for an intrusive federal government with unfettered powers. The budgets proposed by Reagan, Bush I and Bush II created record deficits and debts. Reagan proposed the largest tax hike in U.S. history, and expanded non-military government payroll to an extent that put all of his predecessors to shame. Republicans want the federal government to define whether two people in love can marry or not; they want the government in the doctor's office when a woman seeks advice on reproductive rights; they blindly support suspension of habeas corpus and weakening of Miranda (and concomitantly strengthening government prosecutors). They want the government in our classrooms to diminish evolution; they want government in our universities to prevent stem cell research. They approve of the government sanctioning torture and trampling civil liberties.
The GOP simply uses the philosophical convenience of promoting small government to justify spending on programs they support under the misdirection of exaggerated claims of fiscal and regulatory constraint. But facts tell a different story. This emperor has no clothes.
Since Democrats do not support every federal program, the divergence between the two parties on the philosophy of spending only differs by something close to 10 percent. Mounting the high horse of indignity and wrapping the GOP in the mantle of fiscal conservative is nothing but political theater with no basis in reality. Any disinterested observer would be hard pressed to distinguish between one Party that approved of a budget soaring to $3.8 trillion compared to another Party that smugly approved "only" $3.2 trillion as an example of fiscal responsibility.
The GOP concept of fiscal constraint is opting for suede in place of leather in their Rolls Royce. The Republican platform calling for small government is transparently and patently ridiculous in light of their profligate spending, long history of expanding federal powers and immediate appeal for federal assistance as soon as disaster strikes. The GOP is all for the Government's Omniscient Power to control our lives and spend our money, as long as they control the purse strings. The next time you hear a Republican claim he is for small government, bend over laughing. No other response would be appropriate.
Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist, former White House senior policy analyst and author of, Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World . Follow Jeff Schweitzer on Facebook.