Bob Livingston? Who the heck is Bob Livingston?

I don’t think there is anyone in the country happier about Newt Gingrich’s decision to step down as House speaker than me. But who will replace him? So far, there are a handful of announced candidates for the job, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana.

He is not the man for the job.

It was Livingston, perhaps as much as Gingrich himself, who was responsible for one of the worst legislative debacles of the 105th Congress — the so-called “emergency spending bill” passed in the 11th hour of the session.

This was the bill that included the $18 billion bailout of the International Monetary Fund and a pot pourri of pork-barrel, unconstitutional spending that would make the most committed socialist green with envy. The one excuse the House leadership had for approving the bill over the cries and protests of many in the Republican caucus was the necessity of avoiding a government shutdown.

And it was Bob Livingston, as much as any Republican member, who backed the party into that corner.

Livingston was quoted in the Oct. 19, 1998, issue of Insight magazine as boasting: “The likelihood of any shutdown is virtually nonexistent.” In other words, the one ace the Republicans had up their sleeve to control spending had been played. Their power had been compromised. Now it was a matter of negotiating with an intransigent White House and reaching a “middle ground.”

“We’ve told the president, ‘We’ll negotiate with you on the bottom line,'” Livingston was quoted as saying in the Aug. 31 issue U.S. News & World Report. “We don’t want to close government.”

And that’s where the battle to impose restraint on the expansion of the federal government was lost by the Republicans in 1998 — if not sooner.

Let me remind you how bad this monstrous piece of legislation was, because I think, more than any other factor it represents the icing on the cake that became the Republicans’ undoing last Tuesday at the polls.

It weighed 40 pounds. It was 3,825 pages long. It cost you $520 billion. Only last spring the Congress approved a $219 billion, pork-laden transportation bill. This bill added another $25.8 billion for highways.

But to really appreciate how outrageous this package was, you have to examine the, comparatively speaking, smaller details:

  • $27 million for wool and honey subsidies and the resurrection of the mohair program killed in 1993. That ought to make Sam Donaldson happy, huh?

  • $5. 1 million for wood utilization research. Can you imagine that anyone in 1998 doesn’t know how to utilize wood?

  • $750,000 for grasshopper research in Arkansas. I’m not sure if grasshoppers will be conducting the research or be the subjects of it. Either way, the money would be better spent on Raid.

  • $500,000 for manure handling and disposal in Starkville, MS. Maybe we should bring some of those folks up to Washington, D.C., to deal with Congress.

  • $2.5 million for the Office of Cosmetics and Color. Did you know we had such an office in Washington? Do you think it deserves any funding — let alone “emergency” funding?

  • $20 million to “limit domestic competition” in Alaskan fishing by buying back three boats. You have to wonder whose brother-in-law got rich off of this boondoggle.

  • $246,000 for an Ohio “income enhancement demonstration.” Bet I know that it was the participants in this demonstration who got their income enhanced.

  • $500,000 for the “Eros Data Center.” Can you imagine the damage that would be done to America’s national security if the center should be denied funding?

And let’s not forget that it was also an emergency to continue funding the National Endowment for the Arts. An emergency! Remember when Republicans were united behind eliminating the agency? Now they not only believe in continued funding, it is a matter of life and death that it not be deprived.

This was all, in large measure, the handiwork of one Bob Livingston. Oh yeah, Newt Gingrich has to take ultimate responsibility for it. But Livingston was a principal architect and one of the chief defenders.

In explaining why it was necessary to approve the package, Livingston said: “It is important to vote for this bill and go home to our districts to explain why we should come back.”

I guess they just didn’t have enough time to explain.

The point is: Does Bob Livingston look like an improvement over Newt Gingrich? Or, does he personify all that’s wrong with the Republican-style, business-as-usual formula of governing?

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.