Hustling the Regs:The Real Conservative Game Plan

Conservatives have insisting for years that govt is too expensive, too top-heavy with regulations, too big, and too clumsy. They have run year-after-year on platforms promising to cut all that away and strip govt to what they consider its essentials: the military and promotion of corporate interests. All that is well-known. What is less well-known–so much so that you might as well call it un-known–is the responsibility they themselves have for doing exactly what they accuse liberals of doing: creating a bigger, more expensive, more insensitive govt weighed down with idiotic regulations.An example of this typical right-wing manipulation–or at least the first half of it–comes from todays AJC in an editorial on the so-called “Regulatory Reform Act that Republicans are proposing in the Georgia Senate.

Disingenuously titled the “Regulatory Reform Act,” SB 361 has overheated language that contends “unnecessary government regulation can smother the flame of small business and creativity.” Those lofty-sounding words are little more than a ruse to summarily weaken the oversight authority of every regulatory agency in the state.The bill seeks to set up a series of rulemaking boondoggles that would make Rube Goldberg proud. It would, for example, require the state’s Environmental Protection Division to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before advancing new rules for industries that affect the state’s natural resources

This is Part One of the conservative game: plant piles of new regulations onto govt agencies which will require lots of money and staff to implement. Part Two comes a few years later: Complain loudly that govt agencies are fat, slow bureaucracies with too many employees and too many regulations. Repeat as needed.

There’s nothing new about this. Yellow-dog Dixiecrats invented this approach the day after they knuckled under to LBJ and his Great Society programs. Led by Sen James Eastland of Mississippi, Republicans and Dixiecrats teamed up to lard Johnson’s bills with acres of means testing, ever-tightening eligibility requirements, caveats, conditions, and exemptions, all with incredibly complicated formulas designed to a) keep as many poor people off the roles as possible; b) give the opponents weapons with which they could excuse denying states the funds they were entitled to; and c) create the enormous Federal bureaucracy that would be necessary to implement all those complex formulas, a bureaucracy they could then run against as “bloated” and “excessive” and “wasteful.” They created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then attacked it.

Johnson, a shrewd legislator who knew every trick in the book, was fully aware of what they were doing and said so in public. But with Southern Democrats lining up with Republicans and the majority coalition threatening to bury his bills if he didn’t agree to their “safeguards”, he had little choice. Something, he said in effect, was better than nothing, and he wrote afterward that he had been counting on being able to alleviate the worst abuses forced on him later on as the programs took effect. Unfortunately, Viet Nam started taking all his time and energy (the Tonkin Gulf incident was only a few months after the marathon session that saw most of the Great Society programs enacted) and he never got back to it.

Equally unfortunate, I don’t think even Johnson realized what the full effect of the volumes of riders added by conservatives was going to be–a massive Federal bureaucracy dedicated by law to severely undercutting the very result it had supposedly been created to promote. From the very beginning, the regulations attached to the GS laws by the coalition ensured that welfare programs would be incredibly expensive to run but have only a minimal effect on reducing poverty itself. Eastland, for instance, in one famous rider that he sponsored, ordered that women on welfare who tried to go back to school to better themselves would lose all their benefits, including food stamps, Section 8 housing subsidies, and their ADC (Aid to Dependent Children) health coverage. They would also, in many instances, be declared ineligible for Federal education loans and/or grants. IOW, you want an education, you’re on your own–we’re pulling the plug.

Then there was the infamous “husband clause” in which Federal assistance was cut drastically or eliminated outright from a single-parent family if the recipient married, even if the husband was unemployed and on some form of assistance himself. The effect of this rule–aimed almost exclusively at minority recipients–promulgated by the “family values” party was to break up tens of thousands of families living below the poverty line in neighborhoods all across America and deprive the minority community of the stability the two-parent families Pubs claim to be so fond of could bring to a fractured underclass. .

The word “hypocrisy” comes to mind immediately, doesn’t it?

These and other Draconian regulations combined to make certain that the poor would stay poor, tied to a subsistence-level existence in perpetuity. And we all know what happened then: the Pubs spent the next 25 years attacking “welfare queens” and the poor too “lazy” to better themselves. It was a double-blind, “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” system, and it worked like a charm. A Democrat was finally forced to sign legislation gutting the few protections and what little assistance the poor had left, and ordering them into menial, minimum-wage jobs with no future and not much present. Over 40 million people (some say the number is even higher than that) no longer have any health care at all, and most of them are people who would have qualified for some form of Medicaid before Clinton signed that landmark travesty of a bill.

All that’s happening in GA is that the right wing is adapting this old trick to a new goal: doing the same to every other govt program they dislike, ie, any govt service that helps people instead of the rich corporate donors on whom the right-wing depends for its existence. If they’re allowed to follow-through on their plan, we will see the final degradation of the middle class and the same two-tiered society boasted by Ancient Rome–plutocrats and plebes.

Most of you don’t have to guess which tier you’ll be in.

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