Republicans are suffering grievously from the syndrome that singer Joni Mitchell memorialized in the hit “Big Yellow Taxi” in 1970. The chorus says it all:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Republicans bellyached for years that government must shrink. It had to be smaller. Cut the budget come hell or high water, they yammered. Well, darn if the sequester hasn’t brought hell and high water to Republican districts across America. Now Republican lawmakers can’t stop carping about how small government shouldn’t occur in their districts. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till you vote to kill it?
Paradise was among the first to go. Specifically, the paradise of American parks. The National Park Service, complying with the mandate that it slash about 9 percent of its budget through September, reduced hours, cut staff and stopped providing some services such as campgrounds,based on recommendations from each park superintendent.
Among the campgrounds shut down are those at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. The state’s Republican Senator John Thune is feeling particularly grumpy about that. He accused the Park Service of closing his campgrounds instead of cutting wasteful and duplicative spending, examples of which he neglected to offer.
He’s singing the whiny sequester tune popularized by Republicans who refused to raise taxes on the rich to reduce the impact of $1 trillion in indiscriminate, across-the-board budget cuts they demanded. They all said they wanted smaller government. They huffed and they puffed and they threatened to take down the nation’s economy until they got it.
Now that it’s here, now that it’s affecting their constituents, Republicans contend the $1 trillion in indiscriminate, across-the-board budget cuts they demanded should have been specifically targeted to eliminate only “waste, fraud and abuse.”
That’s a confusing assertion, though, from the party insisting on smaller government, the party whose members swore loyalty oaths to Grover Norquist, the anti-government lobbyist who infamously said government must be shrunk small enough to drown in a bathtub. Even if every speck of waste, fraud and abuse that anyone could ever uncover were eliminated, it wouldn’t add up to $1 trillion. And it wouldn’t shrink government.
Government might be more efficient, but it wouldn’t be smaller. Smaller government requires cutting actual services and programs—like Thune’s campground.
So far, Republicans haven’t wailed about cuts to programs for struggling families such as unemployment benefits, public housing, daycare aid for poor working women, the home heating help called LIHEAP, or the food assistance called WIC that impoverished mothers use to feed their babies.
There has been no Republican backlash about the Energy Department laying off 250 workers and furloughing another 2,600 at the nation’s largest Superfund cleanup site, Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, where radioactive contamination began with the Manhattan Project and continued for 40 years.
Instead, Republicans protested cuts to programs more likely to affect wealthier constituents. That is, constituents more likely to make campaign donations.
They’ve griped like crazy about the decision to stop White House tours, about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) closing 149 control towers at small airports and about the reduction in service at National Parks.
The FAA announcement that it would be forced to close the towers in order to slash $637 million from its budget as sequestration requires sent Republicans from rural areas into a tizzy.
One after another stepped up to say stuff should be cut, somewhere, you know, but not their control tower. Several suddenly experienced the realization—something Democrats have been saying for years—that slashing federal spending harms the economy.
Here, for example, is Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold of Texas contending the FAA should preserve a tower in his district to prevent damage to business:
A closure of the air traffic control tower at Victoria Regional Airport will have a negative economic impact on the city of Victoria, Texas and the surrounding region.
Similarly, here’s Republican Congressman Dennis A. Ross railing against closure of the tower in his Florida district because it’s needed for the annual SUN ’n FUN Fly-In convention:
SUN ’n FUN not only provides incredible economic value to Lakeland, but it serves our children by investing $1.4 million dollars annually in education. It is unacceptable to cut this important funding.”
Rep. Ross suggested, instead, eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse to make our government more responsible, effective and efficient.”
Like every other Republican who opted for abolishing “waste, fraud and abuse” instead of cutting services to his own district, Ross failed to specify any examples.
Republicans may have some difficulty spotting waste, fraud and abuse because they’re a little too close to it. Incensed that visiting constituents will be denied visits to the White House, the GOP-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform devoted its “government oversight and reform” efforts to producing a video criticizing the sequester-caused White House tour cancellations.
That video definitely qualifies as waste.
Republicans never knew what their districts had gotten from the federal government. Until it was gone. Until after they’d paved it over with the sequester. Now they’re stalled in an economically barren parking lot of their own creation.
This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on April 2, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18.