After Katrina: A Budgetary Blog Swarm

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

The push by President Bush for the federal government to spend $200 billion to recover from Hurricane Katrina has sparked a firestorm of criticism from bloggers on the left and right.

Liberals see the reconstruction plan as an opportunity both to blast Republicans as budgetary hypocrites and to revive their longstanding complaints about Bush’s policies on taxes, war and domestic spending. Fiscal conservatives see the plan as further evidence that Bush is not one of their own. And the two bloggers who spearheaded a successful fundraiser for hurricane relief now have refocused on finding “pork” in the federal budget to help fund the reconstruction.

Liberal bloggers are gleefully noting the irony of a GOP president who preaches fiscal restraint now proposing, with little forethought, a massive spending plan to benefit one small region. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of The Daily Kos called Bush “an LBJ-caliber spendthrift” in two separate posts.

Bush’s liberal critics characterize his plan not as an anomaly but as part of a pattern of fiscal irresponsibility. “As Democrats know and Republicans try to forget,” wrote Neil Sinhababu of The Ethical Werewolf, “this administration has turned the record budget surpluses of the late 1990s into unprecedented budget deficits. We’ve gone from a surplus of $236 billion in 2000 to a $412 billion deficit in 2004.”

They also see a political element to the Katrina relief — one that Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo said is sure to benefit the same types of Bush cronies as the equally misguided spending on the war in Iraq.

“What’s driving this budgetary push is not a natural disaster but a political crisis, the president’s political crisis,” Marshall wrote. “The White House is trying to undo self-inflicted political damage on the national dime. … This will be Iraq all over again, with the same fetid mix of graft, zeal and hubris. Cronyism like you wouldn’t believe.”
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Post-Katrina: Pointing Fingers And Proposing Policy

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the policy tornadoes that she spawned continue to churn. In the background, bloggers are working hard to see that those twisters hit the right targets and that the demolished houses of government are rebuilt the way they envision.

Some of the conversation has been punctuated by petty, partisan jabs over issues like whose Web site responded more quickly and appropriately to the disaster or how much Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., paid for a home renovation. Duncan Black of Atrios could not even make a plug for charitable donations without also taking a potshot at “the government” (read: President Bush).

But sober, albeit pointed attempts at punditry and persuasion have been just as common. Whether the issue is national or local, macro or micro, bloggers have opinions, and they are pushing them into the public sphere.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is among them. He published a nine-point treatise on the lessons to be learned from Katrina, and his readers added to the list. The ideas include not building cities below sea level, ensuring the reliability of critical infrastructures like communications system, and putting somebody in charge.

Former FCC chief Reed Hundt, meanwhile, sketched 10 principles for reconstruction in a post at TPMCafe. They include giving hurricane victims some say in how they spend disaster relief, providing the details of reconstruction contracts online, and not managing the work from Washington.

Other bloggers have been more focused on how Katrina will, or should, impact specific subjects, be it the demands on displaced schoolchildren, the voting rights of Louisianans, the access victims have to health care, or the potential for environmental hazard from pumping the polluted waters out of New Orleans.

Here is a sampling of issues being bandied about the blogosphere in Katrina’s wake:
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Brad Smith Departs To Cheers And Jeers

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

In a January 2004 speech before the American Conference Institute, then-Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley A. Smith delivered a scathing critique of McConnell v. FEC, a Supreme Court ruling from the previous month that had upheld campaign finance reforms as constitutional. “Now and then,” he said, “the Supreme Court issues a decision that cries out to the public, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing!’ McConnell is such a decision.”

That was just a warm-up jab. A passionate defender of unfettered political speech, Smith then used what has since become a favorite comparison of his: “If it was unclear before, it is now a fact that our Court gives less constitutional protection to the right to criticize the voting record of an incumbent congressman close to an election than it does to virtual child pornography, cross-burning, sexually explicit cable television programming, topless dancing, tobacco advertising, flag-burning, defamation, and the dissemination of illegally acquired information.”

Such pointed rhetoric, a hallmark of Smith’s five-plus years at the FEC, explains why self-styled campaign reformers are celebrating Smith’s departure from the commission last month. But it just as clearly reveals why free-speech advocates are lamenting the loss of a man they see as a principled, fearless, and eloquent champion of the First Amendment.

“It seems that what the ‘reform industry’ wants is a puppet, and if [a commissioner] isn’t their puppet, then they run to the media and whine about how awful that person is,” said Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer at Foley & Lardner who practices before the FEC. “So, Brad Smith isn’t and wasn’t their puppet. Good for him.”

Then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the senator whose challenge of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law eventually went to the Supreme Court, suggested Smith for the slot on the FEC back in February 2000. Smith’s nomination quickly became controversial because of his criticisms of campaign finance law during his time as a law professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, a post that he now has resumed.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., compared putting Smith on the FEC with “confirming a conscientious objector to be secretary of Defense.” McCain’s allies in the advocacy community agreed. “The full Senate should reject Bradley Smith to serve on the FEC because of his fundamental disagreement with the law he would be sworn to enforce,” said then-Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger in a March 2000 statement.

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