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What happens whenever Republicans act like Democrats to curry favor with voters? They lose. Boil down a very complex political event like the disaster aid vote to its essence and that’s what you’ve get.

Here we had the Republican-controlled Congress, which is supposed to stand for limited government, oppose redistribution of income and not be intimidated by the threat of government shutdowns, on the other side of each of those issues. President Clinton and the Democrats, meanwhile, were on the right side for the wrong reasons.

In times like this, it’s difficult to know who to root for.

To recap the controversy, the Congress approved an $8.6 billion-dollar disaster-relief bill, designed primarily to help out the victims of the South Dakota flooding. But, like most bills in Washington, the legislation did more than that. It also funded the next Census and contained an amendment crafted to prevent another government shutdown if and when Congress and president fail to reach a budget agreement.

What’s amazing is that amid all the publicity generated by this debate, no one on either side is really raising the most important issues. What do I mean?

OK, for starters, why should we be bailing out South Dakota with federal tax dollars in the first place? Now, I know that sounds mean and cold-hearted, but it is simply not a proper and constitutional role for the U.S. government. I am 100 percent in favor of helping folks in need — but voluntarily, not by government coercion.

Do I have a choice in this matter? No. Should I? I believe so. I think I know best how to spend my own money. I know my own needs and I know how I would like to spend the money I give to help others. I can tell you I would give a lot more of it away if the government was not confiscating by force about 40 percent of everything I earn.

Notice I’m not saying that spending federal dollars on disaster relief is the worst thing the U.S. government has ever done. Oh no. I feel much more negatively about, say, funding the National Endowment for the Arts, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department, the Energy Department, the Health and Human Services Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the United Nations, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, troop deployments in Bosnia, etc.

But, nevertheless, I don’t understand from where the U.S. government gets its constitutional authority to take my money because someone in South Dakota needs it more. Who is the government to make such a decision?

Now I know this is a tough sell. People have grown so accustomed to this kind of giveaway program that by comparison to some of the aforementioned spending, disaster aid looks pretty good. But it’s not. It’s a trap. It’s a way to empower bureaucrats in Washington and to transfer power away from communities and states. Don’t you think South Dakota might have been able to handle this emergency better if residents hadn’t been forced to pay Washington about 25 percent of everything they have earned?

Would I feel this way if I had family in South Dakota? You bet. I’d feel this way if I lived in South Dakota myself. I believe in the Constitution of the United States. It works. There are better ways to help people — more direct ways — than to let federal bureaucrats skim 50, 60, even 75 percent off the top of what we pay Washington in taxes before the money ever gets to victims. I would prefer the Salvation Army or the Red Cross handle disasters. They are much more efficient.

That’s why I really don’t care if the government shuts down or not. In fact, I sort of look forward to these shutdowns in which “non-essential employees” are furloughed. I always wonder why the government bothers employing non-essential workers. None of the small businesses I know do. None of the charities I am familiar with do. Only big business and big government employ non-essential workers. So who cares if they get a few days off? I’d like to see them all permanently cashiered.

Watching Washington debate these issues without ever really dealing substantively and philosophically with them is sad. Can you imagine Thomas Jefferson involved in this level of argument? Or James Madison? The American political establishment has lost its bearings.

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