Crime bill feeds public cynicism
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday August 23, 1994
Why are Americans so cynical about Congress? Just examine the so called crime bill, passed by the House of Representatives this weekend when 46 Republicans joined House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., to resurrect the measure, which had failed to pass a critical vote in the House 10 days earlier. The lessons are many.
- Politics, not the public interest, drives too many issues. Political leaders and media commentators appearing on Sunday and Monday morning TV focused almost exclusively on the political implications of breathing new life into the crime legislation. Some said the turnaround vote shows that Clinton is truly the “Comeback Kid” — a persistent president who always wins the close ones. Others said it showed Clinton to be the “Cave-in Kid ” who will sell any ally or any principle down the river to win. None of this has much to do with safer streets, yet safe streets is what the people care about.
- Appearances are more important than reality. The so called crime bill is really a grab-bag of “get tough” measures (a registry of sexual predators, life terms for three-time losers, an expansion of the death penalty), public works spending (about $10 billion for prisons), and a greatly expanded ban on the manufacture, possession and sale of guns. The $13 billion inducement to cities to hire 100,000 more cops requires matching funds by the cities. Result: The actual increase in police officers on the street will, by some estimates, average less than three per city — hardly enough to make a dent in the crime that affects most people.
- Legislation is a magnet for pork and other add-ons. The so called crime bill is larded with these add-ons — including nearly $7 billion of worn-out Great Society-type social programs for at-risk youth, including midnight basketball leagues.
- The congressional appetite to expand the role of the federal government is insatiable. The federal government already has more than 150 job training programs and more than 260 juvenile delinquency programs. It’s hard to figure out why the federal government should have even one juvenile delinquency program, much less one more. Not many Americans really believe that federally funded dance classes and arts and crafts programs, complete with government guidelines and federally funded social workers, will give them safer streets.
- Congress cooks the books. The crime bill calls for spending $30 billion we do not have (after achieving a $5 billion “cut” from the original bill) and then wants the public to believe the $30 billion will be covered by cuts in the federal workforce. That’s a little like the guy who “saves” $20,000 by buying a Taurus instead of a Mercedes and then finances the Taurus by promising to cut the fat out of his future spending.
- Congress keeps the poor on the dole. The president and many members of Congress with kids send their kids to private schools, enforce their homework assignments and make sure they are in bed at a reasonable hour. Yet, these same people — who advocate federal programs like midnight basketball that keep ghetto kids on the street — oppose initiatives like the “G.I. Bill for Education,” proposed by former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, to arm ghetto kids with a voucher to get a good education at a good school of his or her choice.
Yes, people are cynical, a cynicism that can only be reinforced by the so called crime bill.