A significant clash is around the corner and as a bystander, I will be watching closely to see whether conservatives actually live up to their rhetoric. But do not count on it because the little man has far less power to affect changes than they give themselves credit for. The little man overwhelmingly elected conservatives to “slash and burn” government spending but now that these conservatives are in office they are beholden to all of the special interests that made victory possible.
For example, look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This tax-exempt organization pumped almost $100 million into the 2010 campaign, 90% to Republican candidates. For that kind of cash, there are a ton of conservatives beholden to this organization. Now here comes the rub. Conservative lawmakers have roundly rejected Obama’s call for new investments in our infrastructure, saying that the focus must be on the national debt. Personally, I think they want to “slash and burn” the economy because that is what their proclamations, if enacted, will accomplish. However, here comes the Chamber and issues a joint statement – with the AFL-CIO of all things – that says, in part: “America’s working families and business community stand united in applauding President Obama’s call to create jobs and grow our economy through investment in our nation’s infrastructure.” The AFL-CIO conservatives can ignore but ignore the Chamber? And ignore that ton of cash when elections are every two years? Only a fool would think officials, regardless of party, are “independent” of financing influences. But the ball is in conservative’s court. What will they do with it?
Here is another good dilemma for conservatives. We have heard them rant and rave about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ad nauseam. These quasi-government agencies have guaranteed mortgages since 1930 and have been “key to lenders willingness to offer the traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages at low rates,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Now, along comes the Financial Services Roundtable, the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, home builders, community bankers, and real estate agents, organizations that are traditional supporters of the Republican infrastructure, demanding the continuance of government guarantees. Here is another huge pile of cash at stake for lawmakers. My prediction is that government guarantees will continue uninterrupted but that we will no longer hear the names Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. I expect a name change only; nothing of substance.
Finally, conservatives have stood firmly against tax increases for the wealthy. However, there is a weasel in the hen house. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimate that state governments alone have raised $40 billion in increased taxes and fees over the last two years. Notice the word fee in that mix. Conservatives fight to leave the tax rate alone but they make up the differences by raising fees and taxes on other items. Reagan reworked the tax code so that wealthier citizens actually paid more tax and, for the first time ever, “means tested” Social Security benefits. Now, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, is talking about additional means testing of those same benefits. He told a New Hampshire crowd that annual increases in payments to wealthier Americans should be scaled because they do not rely on such cost-of-living adjustments. Hello kettle, this is pot; you are black!