It’s amazing how often members of the limited-government party want to expand government and increase its costs when the end result suits their own political purposes.
That’s true on both the national and state levels.
Just before Christmas, while holding out for more spending cuts in the so-called fiscal cliff stalemate, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 315-107 in favor of a $633 billion defense bill that contains $1.7 billion more than President Obama had requested. The Senate, with its Democratic majority, then passed it 81-14.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pointed out that the bill includes money for weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want and doesn’t need. The reason Congress is so willing to spend the money, of course, is that folks back home benefit from the government’s expenditures.
In the process of passing the defense bill, Panetta said, members of the House and Senate "diverted about $74 billion of what we asked for in savings in our proposed budget to the Congress, and they diverted them to other areas that, frankly, we don’t need."
All six members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation voted for the bill, even though one of the state’s pet projects, the Arkansas Air National Guard’s A-10 air support structure at Fort Smith, might be vulnerable to Air Force cuts. Several other Arkansas facilities, including the C-130 installation at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, will get millions of dollars.
In Arkansas, the GOP majority is just beginning to tip its hand.
The big debate so far is over whether Arkansas should accept federal money to expand its Medicaid rolls. Although refusing the federal money could put some nursing homes out of business, leaving their clients homeless, Republican leaders seek a compromise.
One provision they want is drug-testing of Medicaid recipients. The reason is, that might eliminate some drug-addled freeloaders. They don’t mention where or when such addicts are going to get the medical help they will need, sooner or later, or who will pay for that.
They don’t explain either how to pay the increased cost of drug testing for up to 1 million Medicaid recipients, how often they would be tested or who would do the testing. Will it require a new state agency or just more employees for the state Health Department?
Rep. Bryan King, R-Berryville, who has been promoted to the state Senate, is determined to push his idea to require a new photo identification card to cast a ballot in an election. That won’t be as cheap or easy as it sounds.
King will sponsor a constitutional amendment making the voter ID requirement legal, subject to the 2014 general election.
According to an Arkansas News Bureau story, King must also pass enabling legislation requiring every voter to show a photo voter ID at the polls. And he wants to require a standard ID card to be provided by county clerks around the state, using equipment provided by the secretary of state.
Finally, he would have the Legislature establish an independent voter fraud investigation unit, made up of prosecutors and judges, to investigate allegations of voter fraud. Prosecutors and judges apparently don’t have enough to do.
King didn’t explain who would prosecute the cases the unit would file or who would preside over the resulting trials. Nor does he offer any suggestions as to how all this would be funded. He just knows that he tried a similar measure in 2011, and it got nowhere. But now he thinks he has the upper political hand.
King is trying to fix an imaginary problem. Voters already are asked to show ID cards before they vote, and county clerks are required to keep accurate voter rolls. Those who refuse can cast a provisional ballot.
We already have the mechanism to investigate and prosecute voter fraud, as shown in the case of Democratic Rep. Hudson Hallum of West Memphis, convicted in September of bribing voters and rigging absentee ballots.
More radical legislation has been filed by state Sen. Denny Altes of Fort Smith, who seems to have a penchant for proposing foolish bills. The danger now is that some of them may get passed.
This one would require all federal law enforcement agents to obtain "permission slips" from county sheriffs before they could make arrests in Arkansas. They would also have to seek approval in writing before conducting a search or seizure.
Any federal agents who should fail to obtain the proper permission could be prosecuted — unless they happen to be enforcing customs and immigrations laws, which is important enough to get an exemption in Altes’ eyes. They would also be exempt if they were trying to stop a crime in progress, such as a bank robbery.
Getting a permission slip from the local sheriff in a case like that could be troublesome.
Altes told a reporter that no sheriff had asked him to file the bill, in fact that he can’t recall who did. He just thought it was a good idea because he heard that Arizona was trying to do something like that, which explains the first exemption.
If a sheriff was the subject of a federal investigation, the agents then would have to get permission from the attorney general to proceed.
Thus, more government is needed.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.