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Republican Phonies

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For freedom’s sake, divided government beats monolithic government. Even a casual look at recent history confirms that truth. Therefore advocates of freedom will gladly accept bitter partisan rivalry if that’s what it takes to arrest the growth of Leviathan.

Come January we will have divided government. But does that mean anything more than a holding action? Will we see any significant reduction in government spending, regulation, and privilege?

It’s unlikely. The first, obvious, reason is that those who say they want to shrink the state will hold a majority in only one half of the legislative branch. That’s may be good for stopping initiatives, but without a change of heart on the Democrats’ part, mere control of the House of Representatives is not enough to alter the status quo.

There’s another reason: the House Republican majority is not serious about cutting government spending. Even for most Tea Party types, talk about cutting fades badly when it gets down to specifics. The allegedly fearsome cleaver-wielding Republicans have their eyes on only $520 billion out of a nearly $4 trillion federal budget. That’s one-seventh of the federal spending appropriated in the current fiscal year.

Some budget-cutters.

Why are they so timid? One reason is that they have taken so-called mandatory spending off the table, at least in the near term. This is essentially entitlement spending, the level of which is determined by how many people qualify for the programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps — plus interest on the national debt and government salaries. All told, it accounts for well over half the budget, 63 percent.

So we’re left with only the 37 percent that is called discretionary spending. But we’re not really left with it because, with rare exceptions, Republicans say they will not touch military and homeland-security spending. Out of a total $1.415 trillion in discretionary spending, fully $895 billion falls into these two categories. The total is actually more than that. Economist Robert Higgs says that when other military-related spending scattered throughout the budget is counted, the full amount exceeds $1 trillion.

Now we’re left with only $520 billion eligible for cutting, about 14 percent of the entire budget. If that were cut in its entirety, the deficit in the current fiscal year would “shrink” to $747 billion. (It’s now projected to come in at $1.267 trillion.) But of course the Republicans are not promising to cut 100 percent of “discretionary nonsecurity” spending. They only talk about an across-the-board cut amounting to $100 billion. Out of $3.834 trillion!

This is worth getting excited about, tea partiers?

Let’s face it: There will be no substantial budget cutting if spending on the American Empire is ruled off limits. War, overt and covert, is expensive. Invasions and occupations are expensive. Maintaining close to 1,000 bases worldwide is expensive. Empires are bloody expensive.

In other words, war hawks cannot also be budget hawks. War hawks always end up budget mice. There’s no way around it. When will Republicans learn this? Do they really want to?

“But what about our security?” they will ask. This is something else they have their heads in the sand about. It could not be more clear that America’s so-called national-security apparatus for the last half century has made us more vulnerable and less secure. American presidents couldn’t have been more effective if they had deliberately tried to make a billion and a half Muslims hate us. Contrary to those who think history began September 11, 2001, U.S. regimes have long pursued policies in the Middle East and Central Asia that have brutalized the Muslim world and cultivated a seething passion for revenge. That explains (though does not excuse) the terrorism against civilians that government officials now say they must spend so much to stop. The threat was created by American policy, and it can be ended by changing that policy to the Washington-Jefferson foreign policy of nonintervention. That will not only make us safer, it also will save the taxpayers money.

It’s time for some honesty from the Republicans. Either give up the empire and the conceit of “American exceptionalism” or give up the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. Stop playing the American people for fools.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.