There is no Republican Party with a united message even related to the most bedrock principles upon which our nation was founded. Not only do most Republicans support the entire premise of the $70 billion+ federal intervention in education, but evidently a number of them support federal involvement in after-school programs!
It’s no secret that Donald Trump, a lifelong Democrat, is not considered a staunch fiscal conservative. And with liberal Gary Cohen running point on domestic policy, we’re lucky to have the president sign off on any modicum of fiscal conservatism. Yet, the one bright spot in the administration is the conservative staff at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who have drafted a discretionary budget for FY 2018 that actually fulfills his promise to cut wasteful spending in the deep bureaucracies. Now, congressional Republicans are balking at every spending cut, demonstrating that they are ideologically to the left of a lifelong Democrat on spending, and that many elected Republicans are merely the affirmative action version of Democrats.
If we believe that the federal government should be involved in funding after-school and summer programs for local communities, then there is no party in Washington that believes anything should be outside the scope of the federal government. It’s that simple. It’s simply indefensible for cradle-to-grave-socialism on such a local level to be funded by the federal government, yet the federal government funds just that through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) to the tune of $1.67 billion a year. Now, a group of 81 Republicans and Democrats, pressured by teacher’s unions and rent seekers who stand to benefit from “free funding,” are demanding that the Trump administration take this program off its list of cuts.
Late last week, a group of Democrats and Republicans sent a letter to education appropriators requesting that they reject the administration’s call to eliminate the 21st CCLC program. Here is a list of the Republicans who signed the letter:
Susan Brooks, R-Ind.
Lou Barletta, R-Pa.
Ryan Costello, R-Pa.
John Katko, R-N.Y.
Peter King, R-N.Y.
Steve Stivers, R-Ohio
Don Young, R-Alaska
It’s worth noting that Steve Stivers is the chairman of the NRCC, the official Republican committee dedicated to recruiting Republican House candidates. Yet, he doesn’t believe in a foundational Republican principle on education and the role of the federal government! Stivers also recently suggested that in general the GOP needs to work more closely with Democrats rather than with conservatives.
Despite the mellifluous-sounding platitudes in this letter of praise for after-school programs, there is no evidence that this program has netted any success. A very detailed study of this program in 2007 found that after 13 years, much like other government expenditures on education programs, it merely treated bad behavior rather than solving it. Here is a synopsis of the findings as described by David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation:
A multisite experimental impact evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program found a whole host of harmful effects.28 Overall, teachers found participating students to have disciplinary problems that were confirmed by student-reported data. According to their teachers, participating students were less likely to achieve at above average or high levels in class and were less likely to put effort into reading or English classes. These students were also more likely to have behavior problems in school than their counterparts. Teachers were more likely to have to call the parents of participating students about misbehavior. Participating students were also more likely to miss recess or be placed in the hall for disciplinary reasons, while also having parents come to school more often to address behavior problems. 21st Century students were also more likely to be suspended from school than similar students.
While reading Mr. Muhlhausen’s congressional testimony from 2015, it’s hard to ignore the absurdity of the entire premise that the federal government should deal with such micro-behavioral issues in school. Yet, even Republicans, and I’m quite certain many more of them than those who signed onto this letter, support full federal involvement in this matter. Just consider the views of Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on cradle-to--grave government education. And he is the top Republican chairman on education in the Senate!
What is evidenced by the fight surrounding the after-school program is that every single proposed cut to a program across the federal budget will illicit backlash from many of these same Republicans in addition to every Democrat. This is why we won’t even make a dent in the federal deficit even though the debt is going to drown out our fiscal solvency within a decade and is already smothering economic growth.
At its core, this is why Republicans are facing some head winds in special elections that should be slam dunks.
Also, remember that some of these members are the very same individuals who are blocking repeal of even a few crucial elements of Obamacare (much less the entire program). They run as Republicans, but govern like Democrats — even on the core issues. I’m still waiting for the Democrats to have their own Tuesday Group.
This opposition to Trump’s budget also reveals another growing trend — that when conservatives oppose Trump from the Right, the president goes after them with full force. But when liberal Republicans oppose him from the Left, he is largely silent. To borrow a math analogy, we are incurring the lowest common denominator of the ideological vices between Trump and congressional Republicans instead of enjoying the greatest common factor. There are no signs that the Trump administration will demand the inclusion of his budget priorities in the upcoming April budget bill, after congressional Republicans already sold out to Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. As it relates to education, it doesn’t help that a number of Jeb Bush staffers are attempting to infiltrate the Department of Education, which is already under weak leadership.
At its core, this is why Republicans are facing some head winds in special elections that should be slam dunks. They have elicited the backlash of an energized opposition, but have not enjoyed the benefits of energizing their own base with policy victories. This is akin to Obama helping spawn the Tea Party — but at least he delivered for his base and kept them energized to win a second term. Until and unless we have a party willing to unite behind some basic principles, Republicans will not hold power for very long. After all, why not just vote for the real thing instead of the poor-man’s version?