The spending and debt crises of the past few years in Washington have forced an important debate about the proper role of government, and the need for prioritizing government spending.
The failed $800 billion stimulus, TARP, countless bailouts and Congress' failure to make a serious attempt at controlling our $16 trillion debt have given many conservatives rightful anger over how Washington spends our money.
Unfortunately, well-placed mistrust in Congress' ability to spend our tax dollars is now jeopardizing legitimate spending projects, chief among them this year's transportation funding bill. If Congress fails to act by June 30, important transportation projects critical to our national defense and our economy will lose their funding. The effects on our already suffering economy will be far-reaching and profound.
While there are important disagreements between members of the House and Senate on this bill, enough consensus exists on the broad framework that there's no excuse for not passing it in time.
First, the current framework does not contain any earmarks. This is a monumental achievement in its own right considering "Bridge to nowhere" and "John Murtha's airport" served to make transportation earmarks the poster children of wasteful pork spending.
Second, the myriad of highway spending categories that used to serve as hiding places for pet projects has been reduced from 87 down to 21.
Third, thanks to the leadership of Senator Jim Inhofe and conservatives in the House, the cumbersome and unnecessary environmental review process for road construction projects will see significant reform. How much reform is up for debate, but we're going to get something better than what we have now, that much is assured.
Fourth, not passing a bill will hurt our already suffering economy.
While big-government Democrats mistakenly place their economic faith in the religion of government spending, conservatives know the economic pump is best primed by a robust private sector. Government cannot do much to stoke job creation on its own, as evidenced by President Obama's repeated failures during the past three years. But government can play a profound role in stalling job creation and hurting economic growth. Failure to pass a transportation bill would have a negative effect on commerce and the businesses that count on safe and reliable roads.
Perhaps most importantly, those of us who believe in constitutional conservatism understand that unlike all the things the Federal Government wastes our money on, transportation spending is at the core of what constitutes legitimate spending.
Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution specifically lists interstate road-building as one of the delineated powers and responsibilities vested in the federal government. In Federalist Paper #42, James Madison makes an early case for the federal government's role in maintaining a healthy infrastructure, by stating "Nothing which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the states, can be deemed unworthy of the public care."
Let's be clear - the legislation before Congress is still the product of a Democratically-controlled Senate, and far from conservative perfection. But there can be no denying that it represents a marked improvement over previous transportation funding bills. Enough progress has been made, victories won, and concessions secured from Democrats, that conservatives should feel comfortable dropping their objections and working to ensure passage of a bill before June 30.
The road to reforming government spending will be long and winding, but conservatives have us headed in the right direction.