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Steven Pearlstein

Red States Make a Mockery Of Self-Reliance

By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page E01

In his inaugural address tomorrow, I'm guessing, George W. Bush will take a moment to reaffirm the "red state" values that returned him and the Republican congressional majority to power. You know, things like self-reliance, free markets, small government and fiscal rectitude.

Funny, that. I have in front of me the latest report from the Tax Foundation showing how much each state gets back in contracts, benefits and subsidies for every dollar of taxes paid. And it shows that, with a few exceptions, the anti-government red states are the net winners in the flow of funds while the pro-government blue states are almost all losers.

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Among the biggest winners in 2003, for example, were New Mexico, at $1.99 for every tax dollar paid, followed closely by Alaska, Mississippi, North and South Dakota, Alabama and Montana -- the "red-ink states," as Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group calls them. The biggest loser was New Jersey, at 57 cents per dollar paid, followed by blue states Connecticut, New York, California, Massachusetts and Illinois.

(Happily for those of us in the Washington region, the dominating presence of the federal government makes us big winners.)

In other words, we now have a new red-state political majority comprising voters who, while professing distrust of government and disdain for the values of the blue-state minority, are only too happy to rely on Washington and blue-state wealth to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed.

This rank hypocrisy might be laughable but for the fact that the fleecing of the blue states has increased markedly over the past decade as Republicans tightened their hold on Washington. And the early signs are that it's about to get worse.

Is it mere coincidence, for instance, that after voting 91 percent for his opponent, the District suddenly finds itself stuck with a $12 million tab for inauguration security? Or that Dick Cheney is still pushing tax cuts and royalty breaks for red-state drillers and miners, even after energy prices for blue-state consumers have rocketed to record highs? Or that the tax plan being cooked up by the Treasury will eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, which just happen to be highest in blue states? Or that the administration plans to slash funding for urban-oriented community block grants, then bury the program in the Commerce Department?

And how can we square the Republicans' urgent desire to "privatize" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with its continued support for Farmer Mac -- or, for that matter, the Rural Utilities Service, a New Deal agency that was supposed to bring electricity to family farms but now finances golf courses in North Texas?

Then again, you'd think those truly committed to free markets and smaller government would be raising hell over the big increase in farm subsidies over the past two years, even as farm incomes doubled.

How's that possible? You may remember that in the bad old days of Bill Clinton, Congress passed the "Freedom to Farm" Act, which was supposed to wean farmers from disaster aid and price supports by replacing those with a gradually diminishing annual subsidy, whether they planted a crop or not. But then the weather turned bad, world prices fell and the farm lobby was back on Capitol Hill with both hands out. When the legislative smoke had cleared, the "freedom" payments survived, only to be supplemented by another round of disaster relief and a brand-new price-support system.

Three years later, red-state farmers are now getting all the advantages of free markets with all the benefits of French-style subsidies. Yields are at record levels, driving prices low enough to trigger price-support payments while sending the price of farmland to new highs. Meanwhile, in blue-state supermarkets, food prices have risen faster than prices for nearly everything else.

George W. Bush says he wants to put aside this silly red-blue thing and be president of all the people. So far, however, his actions -- and those of his congressional allies -- suggest a different reality:

To the victor belong the spoils.

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