Saturday, September 01, 2012

RNC: A little hypocrisy goes too far

Written by  Lawrence H Kaufman, Contributing Editor

The Republican National convention the last week in August was the kind that party pooh-bahs like: There was virtually no controversy and little occurred that affected the mood of the convention or its schedule.

To no one’s surprise, Willard Mitt Romney, after what appeared to be a 20-year campaign, finally won the Republican nod to run for President of the U.S. Romney is joined by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a so-called policy wonk who did himself a bit of harm in his speech to the convention when he presented a world that simply does not exist.

Also to no one’s surprise, the GOP party platform that was adopted with virtually no debate claimed to be a document supporting smaller government and low taxes.

Don’t you believe it.

The platform plank on infrastructure promises to terminate high speed rail development, but that was no surprise. The program had not been funded the past two years as Tea Party Republicans (Ryan is one of the darlings of the Tea Party movement) tried to block virtually all spending programs, especially those advocated by President Obama. In the same vein, the GOP promises to end subsidies for Amtrak, the national rail passenger service, a move that effectively would make the United States the most highly developed nation not to have rail passenger service.

Whether I like it or not, these are legitimate policy issues, and Congress has the duty and authority to decide which should be funded. Programs have been created and programs have been terminated since the republic began in the late 18th Century. That’s the way our government is supposed to function. We cannot afford everything we think we might want.

What I don’t consider legitimate, however, is the Republican promise to put more money into the nation’s infrastructure. For a party that will bore you out of your mind with its prattle about shrinking government and lowering taxes, pumping tax money into highways is more than just a dichotomy. It’s hypocrisy.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling and pumping fresh money into it is necessary. Nowhere in convention week were any delegates or Republican office holders asked to explain their reluctance to spend money this year on highways or other infrastructure elements.

Considering the GOP-controlled House’s decision to authorize a short-term highway program at only about 40% of the amount spent over the previous five years, it might have been instructional if party leaders had been forced to explain why we should believe their promises in light of their performance earlier this year.

Even if they were serious in their promises to spend more money on highways, Republicans should be required to deal with some questions. Where was the sentence in the platform, for example, advocating that truckers must pay their proper allocable share of the infrastructure funding the GOP is advocating (and what gave party officials religion on highway spending, anyway)?

You didn’t see the sentence because it was not there. Big-rig trucks have been effectively subsidized for decades—by as much as 40%, according to some independent highway cost allocation studies.

Subsidizing truckers who get to expense their right-of-way costs while railroads must capitalize theirs allows truckers to charge less than they would if they had to pay their full share of the government-owned, -operated, and -maintained highways they use. Railroads are forced to reflect the trucking subsidy in the rates they charge to move competitive traffic.

With the exception of some public-private partnerships, railroads put up their own (stockholders’) capital. So, if we are to believe the GOP, they are all for subsidizing motor carriers, while punishing railroads and their customers.

Republican platform writers didn’t even provide a rationale for taking a position that directly conflicts with the party’s less-government, lower-taxes mantra. Or, did any Republican strategists even bother to read their party’s platform?

Editor's note: So much for the Republican Party being the party of small government and low taxes. If you believe its platform, Larry has a bridge to nowhere for sale in Alaska he’s sure you will want to buy. Ask for Sarah, Don, or Ted if you'd like a guided tour.—William C. Vantuono