CONSERVATIVE "government" sputtered and then flopped
last week as it attempted to grapple with the
absurd contradictions inherent in subsidizing
big business and regulating people's lives.
all the right reasons, the bulk of the attention
went to the rebuke handed President Bush and his
Senate leadership pals who could not explain why
conservatives should use the Constitution to not
only regulate marriage but also overturn their
movement's cherished 11th Amendment position that
powers not given to Uncle Sam should be reserved
for the states and the people.
attention, however, was just as riveted on another
flop by Bush and his hand-picked Senate leader,
Bill Frist of Tennessee, in mismanaging possibly
the worst piece of tax legislation in American
history in a way that has given proponents of
serious regulation of the tobacco racket their
best opportunity ever.
the two flops together, and the picture emerges
of a movement that does better at outrage over
trends in a free society than at governing, a
movement willing to spend what they like to call
"taxpayer money" and pass out special interest
tax breaks to stay in power..
a majority vote that included six Republicans,
the Senate in effect decided to halt its farce,
largely because the effort to approve a "marriage
amendment" was shedding Republicans daily. For
months, Bush and his Senate leaders had pushed
a proposal to bar states from permitting gay people
to get married as well as bar courts from blocking
states that want to forbid civil unions.
the eve of the floor debate, Frist was looking
at as many as 60 no votes for a constitutional
amendment that needed 67 yes votes. The problem
was the extreme language about civil unions. Naturally,
opponents were happy to have an up-or-down test.
desperation, Frist and the White House wanted
to open up the process to in effect write a constitutional
amendment on the Senate floor to deal with the
problems they had created by acquiescing for months
in the civil unions language. One might have expected
conservatives to respond that treating the Constitution
this way is obscene. As it was, Frist could not
muster even a majority (he needed 60 votes and
got 48) even to proceed any further.
my money what happened at the end of the week
on tobacco and taxes was even more revealing.
On this one, the mess started with corporate taxes
and ended up producing the best chance ever for
Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco
-- for decades, blocking it has been one of the
powerful racket's most fundamental purposes in
muscling government. To the public the news of
the Senate's overwhelming vote for this (along
with a buyout offer for tobacco growers) might
have seemed like it came out of the blue. It didn't.
Earlier this year, Congress needed to replace
about $5 billion in export subsidies that had
been found against the rules of the World Trade
Organization. It passed a reasonable bill, but
in the House it mushroomed into a lobbyists' dream
of goodies worth at least $130 billion over the
next decade. To his shame, Bush went along with
this outrage, but it was still short of House
votes when the GOP leadership decided to throw
the tobacco buyout in to win grower-state support.
To compound the outrage, the roughly $10 billion
deal (most of the money, naturally, would go to
well-off large growers) would simply be added
to the swollen national debt.
was after this gigantic giveaway bill squeaked
through the House that Frist made his mistake.
Under the Constitution, revenue measures must
originate in the House, but in practice the Senate
often acts first. To follow the Constitution,
it is routine for the Senate to technically pass
the House version, then the two sides iron out
however, failed to remember that a tobacco buyout
could not get through the Senate without FDA regulation
attached, that there was a deal to that effect
between grower states and antismoking forces,
and that FDA regulation had become a bipartisan
cause -- the sponsors are Edward Kennedy and Ohio
Republican Mike DeWine.
tried for the necessary unanimous consent on the
House tax bill, but any first-grader could have
told him that Kennedy would pounce like a tiger,
which he in fact did. The result opened up the
measure, and the provision for FDA regulation
of a killer product that acts like a drug dialed
is anyone's guess whether the Senate and House
can resolve their tax bill differences, whether
Bush will show anything resembling leadership
in this mess. But there are no foreseeable prospects
for amending the Constitution to impose marriage
regulations on the states, just as there are no
prospects that "conservatives" can agree on what
kind of amendment they are advocating.
The problem here is not liberal obstructionism.
The problem is a conservative movement that has
lost its way and is courting the loss of its power.
Posted: July 20, 2004