POLITICS

The sequester and the Beltway Bandits’ near occasion of sin

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

According to a very wise Catholic teaching, when one gives into temptation, the greatest culpability lies not at the moment of surrendering to temptation, but at knowingly putting oneself in a situation of temptation.

I think this is relevant to Northern Virginia today.

Gov. Bob McDonnell is on a crusade to stop sequestration — the automatic spending cuts prescribed by the 2011 budget deal. There are many reasons sequestration isn’t the ideal way to cut government, and so McDonnell has many apt objections. But I wanted to note an underlying problem here.

Virginia’s economy is largely dependent on government spending. Many of Virginia’s biggest companies are largely dependent on federal government spending.

So, naturally, when we’re discussing spending cuts (which are really reductions in the size of spending increases) McDonnell and the government-dependent businesses in his state are upset. And naturally, these businesses and this conservative governor are now lobbying against the lower federal spending levels.

Should we blame Va. businesses for lobbying for their own bottom line? It seems particularly defensible when you consider that they are largely lobbying to sort of keep things on track? Aren’t they a bit justified in expecting the rules of the game won’t dramatically change.

But McDonnell has worked to bring these federally dependent businesses into Virginia, and here’s where we consider the near occasion of sin.

If, like many businessmen and like Gov. McDonnell, you believe in limited government — that taxes are too high and spending is too high — then isn’t there something problematic about hitching your wagon to big government?

If for no other reason, it’s problematic because when someone proposes to reduce our bloated budget, your self-interest will place you on the side of bigger government.

I have the same worry with businesses like Koch Industries — owned by true believers in the free market — investing in ethanol distilleries. If there’s a chance to kill the ethanol mandate, will the Kochs lobby on behalf of economic liberty, or will they sit on the sidelines?

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