08/31/2011 12:39 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2011

The Effete Fed

Because of a rigid ideological commitment to "get Washington off the public's back," House of Representative Republicans tend to have a counter productive, narrow view of the appropriate role for federal government.

It seems as though only a full-blown crisis can force them to soften their stance. Then, they come running to Washington hat in hand, seeking federal financial help they previously scorned. The hypocrisy of their ideological rigidity is glaringly exposed.

Recent cases in point are Hurricane Irene and the 5.9 earthquake that battered the East Coast. In the spirit of scaling back the size of government, the House GOP had made significant cuts in the funding of emergency preparedness programs for these sorts of natural disasters. It was an embarrassing exercise in shortsighted frugality which was quickly reversed in the wake of such calamitous events.

In the direct aftermath of these natural disasters, only a few Republican lawmakers were bold enough to put their anachronistic anti-federal government ideology on display. One of them was House Republican Majority leader Eric Cantor. His office warned that any federal relief granted to earthquake victims must be offset by spending cuts. What if the cuts were not immediately forthcoming? Was Cantor prepared to withhold relief?

Unless they need Washington to come to their rescue, most House GOP members fail to see much use for a federal bureaucracy other than administering the common defense and collecting taxes. They would rather have the states, localities, or better yet, the private sector work things out, even when lacking the resources or otherwise ill-equipped to substitute for a central authority. The lawmakers forget that under our political system, the federal government is an extension of the American people, not an adversary. When problems transcend state boundaries as a host of problems do from pollution and disease to trade and transportation, a centralized coordinated response is crucial. Fragmented efforts too easily end up working at cross purposes. In some states, there may be no efforts at all, and the private sector does not always voluntarily assign top priority to the public interest in matters of national concern, especially when profits are at stake.

Republican lawmakers' reflex antipathy to big government is also reflected in their effort to defund federal research and monitoring of climate change. Through ideological blinders, they view global warming as a liberal ploy to obscure an "oppressive" government power grab. Any suggestion that rising temperatures are a threat to a livable world gets no traction. Small politicians rarely see the big picture.

Another instance in which congressional Republicans have displayed their anti-federal government bias is through a crusade against regulation. They maintain that far too many federal regulations -- especially environmental ones -- are excessive and stifle job creation.

Everyone wants to get rid of red tape, but most environmental regulations are important mechanisms in protecting public and ecological health. Moreover, numerous studies document that the vast majority of these green rules have neutral or positive net effects on job creation.

GOP disdain towards big government is often accompanied by a conviction that the private sector is a more desirable management alternative for society. Let the market determine the best options. A frequent practitioner of this laissez-faire philosophy is Texas Governor Rick Perry. In lieu of releasing $53 billion (in state funds) to expand water resources infrastructure for drought-stricken farmers over a 10 year period, he chose to pray to heaven for rain. Texas crop growers were left largely on their own.