02.15.11

No Cash for You, Kentucky

While its small-government crusaders decry Obama’s budget and government spending, the Bluegrass State is thriving on D.C. welfare. Paul Begala says it’s the perfect place for a truly democratic experiment.

The great Mark Shields has said that most Americans are theoretical conservatives but operational liberals. I think Shields is right. In fact, we ought to make it a law of political analysis: According to Shields’ Law, the same people who vote for politicians who pledge to slash government spending are appalled when the politicians they elect actually slash government spending. 

No mother wants to see her child crammed into an overcrowded classroom, where she can experience the joys of head lice. I've never been to a community meeting where anyone said, "I'd like to wait longer for an ambulance," or, "I hope America stops spending all that money on cancer research." Nor did I see anyone at a Tea Party rally burning his Medicare card. 

When talking about taxes, the late Sen. Russell Long once said, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind that tree." And so it is with cutting government spending. 

Take Kentucky, please. Kentucky has given us Makers Mark bourbon, Churchill Downs, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Kentucky has also given us Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers. While Rogers was once dubbed the "Prince of Pork" and McConnell has hauled so much pork he's at risk for trichinosis, they are now converts to Sen. Paul's anti-government gospel.  McConnell says President Obama's new budget is "unserious" and "irresponsible" because it merely cuts projected deficits by $1.1 trillion.  “The people who voted for a new direction in November have a five-word response," McConnell said, "We don’t have the money.”

Fair enough.  So here's my two-word response: Defund Kentucky. Cut it off the federal dole. Kentucky is a welfare state to begin with. The conservative Tax Foundation says the Bluegrass State received $1.51 back from Washington for every dollar it paid in federal taxes in 2005 (the most recent data I could find on the Tax Foundation's website.)  We need to listen to the people of Kentucky. They don't want any more federal spending in their state—and they certainly must be appalled by the notion that they're a bunch of welfare queens, living off the taxes paid by blue states like California (which only gets 81 cents back on the dollar), Connecticut (69 cents), Illinois (75 cents) and New York (79 cents). 

A report in the Lexington Herald-Leader says 80 percent of Kentucky's Medicaid bill is paid by Washington and more than one in five Kentuckians receives a monthly check from the Social Security System, totaling $8.5 billion a year. Washington also spends over $2 billion a year on flood insurance for Kentuckians, $667 million in crop insurance, and $877 million in mortgage insurance.  Plus the Bluegrass State is home to federal facilities ranging from Ft. Knox to the Department of Energy's Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah. 

Kentuckians are addicted to federal spending—they're the Lindsay Lohan of states, the Charlie Sheen of commonwealths.

The Herald-Leader also pointed out that the USDA—the giant federal agriculture bureaucracy in Barack Obama's Big Government—gave Kentucky's Letcher County $100,000 for a new fire truck. Anyone want to guess who the good people of Letcher County voted for in the 2008 presidential election? You got it. John McCain got 65 percent. But maybe that's because the patriotic folks there loved a war hero. So let's look at 2010: Rand Paul's crusade against federal spending carried the day in Letcher County. 

So give the people what they want. Defy Shields’ Law. Defund Kentucky. Kentuckians are addicted to federal spending—they're the Lindsay Lohan of states, the Charlie Sheen of commonwealths.  Let's put them in detox.  By trying this experiment in one state we can honor the conservatives' belief in states' rights, allowing Kentucky to truly be a laboratory of democracy. If it were up to me, they'd go cold turkey—not one federal dime. But that may be going too far, too soon.  So, I have to ask Kentucky, with all due respect: Can we just reclaim the extra 51 cents you take from Washington for every tax dollar you send?  Can we transfer our gold from Ft. Knox to, say, San Francisco? They actually like federal spending there, so holding our federal gold will not offend their moral standards. And let's put that Gaseous Diffusion Plant in...well, on second thought, keep it, Kentucky. I'm not sure what it is, but it kind of sounds like my teenage boys' room after burrito night. 

But can we at least have our firetruck back? 

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.