Will somebody please explain the meaning of 'limited government' to Dana Milbank? 

I don't think Dana Milbank has it out for conservatives, and he occaisonally hits it out of the park while criticizing Democrats. But his column today on how Republican lawmakers are hypocrites for demanding a better federal response to the gulf coast oil leak is awfully weak:

There is something exquisite about the moment when a conservative decides he needs more government in his life.

About 10:30 Monday morning, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), an ardent foe of big government, posted a blog item on his campaign Web site about the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "I strongly believe BP is spread too thin," he wrote.

The poor dears. He thinks it would be a better arrangement if "federal and state officials" would do the dirty work of "protecting and cleaning up the coast" instead of BP.

About an hour later came word from the Pentagon that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi -- all three governed by men who once considered themselves limited-government conservatives -- want the federal government to mobilize (at taxpayer expense, of course) more National Guard troops to aid in the cleanup.

If you're going to be fair to conservatives here, I think you would note that they believe in limited government, not no government. Helping clean-up an offshore oil spill that threatens multiple states is pretty the textbook definition of a federal obligation. Wanting the government to come in and help here doesn't exactly make you hypocritical if you're also concerned about the feds telling you how much salt you can eat, what kind of car you drive or the overall level of taxation. And yet, that's exactly the point that Milbank makes:

An analysis of data from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation by Washington Post database specialist Dan Keating found that people in states that voted Republican were by far the biggest beneficiaries of federal spending. In states that voted strongly Republican, people received an average of $1.50 back from the federal government for every dollar they paid in federal taxes. In moderately Republican states, the amount was $1.19. In moderately Democratic states, people received on average of 99 cents in federal funds for each dollar they paid in taxes. In strongly Democratic states, people got back just 86 cents on the tax dollar.

If Sessions and Shelby succeed in shrinking government, their constituents in Alabama will be some of the biggest losers: They get $1.66 in federal benefits for every $1 they pay in taxes. If Louisiana's Vitter succeeds in shrinking government, his constituents will lose some of the $1.78 in federal benefits they receive for every dollar in taxes they pay. In Mississippi, it's $2.02.

That may explain why, as the oil slick hits the Gulf Coast, lawmakers from the region are willing to swallow their limited-government principles as they dangle federal aid before their constituents. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he would "make sure the federal government is poised to assist in every way necessary." His colleague Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he is making sure "the federal government is doing all it can" -- even as he added his hope that "industry" would pay.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of reasons to explain a discrepancy in federal spending between red and blue states -- surely it's a far more complex than Milbank would have you believe. It also has little bearing on whether Republicans believe dealing with massive offshore oil leaks is an unwarranted intrusion by the feds, which is a straw man of epic proportions. Also, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Republican senators go out and try and secure egregious amounts of aid for constutents affected by the spill. It may be worth pointing out this hypocrisy, though it would be nice if Milbank had an actual non-rhetorical example of it. But again, the personal hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers is not an argument against limited government.

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Mark Hemingway

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