President Obama v. Governor Jindal - Debating the Proper Role of Government

The reviews are in on President Obama’s Address to Congress and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s GOP Response.  The New York Times calls Obama’s speech “Reaganesque exhortation to American resilience” and the consensus among my circle of friends is that Gov. Jindal did not do a great job of delivering his speech.  I think we have bipartisan consensus that President Obama’s delivery was better than Governor Jindal.  After reading transcripts of the speeches, I have come to the conclusion that those who distrust big government and believe in a constrained Washington, D.C must give high grades to Governor Jindal and failing grades to President Obama.

On the question of the proper role of the federal government to solve America’s economic crisis, Obama and Jindal have very different opinions.

President Obama

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.  Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down.  That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that ‘s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

Governor Jindal

Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us.  Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina – we have our doubts.

President Obama is laying out a plan for the government to act boldly to revive the economy, and use your tax dollars to “invest” in energy, health care and education.  Although the President stated that he does not “believe in bigger government,” his actions to grow government and promote the idea that government can solve all of our problems speak louder than his words. 

Governor Jindal referenced the Bush Administration’s mishandling of the response to Hurricane Katrina as an example of the inherent inefficiency and irrationality of big government solutions to problems.  If you trust federal bureaucrats at the Department of Treasury to manage our economic crisis, then you love the big government solutions that President Obama mapped out last night.  On the other hand, if you believe as Ronald Reagan did that “government isn’t the solution – it is the problem” then you are with Governor Jindal.

President Obama did not discuss in detail his so called Stimulus plan, but did map out some of the elements of the massive $787 billion plan heavy on government spending.  Obama alleged that his plan would “save or create 3.5 million jobs” and said that because of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” that “health care professionals can continue caring for our sick.”  Governor Jindal argued that tax cuts, not more “power in the hands of Washington politicians,” will pave the road to American prosperity.  Jindal argued that the Obama plan has major shortcomings.

Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest.  While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending.  It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rails projects, such as a “magnetic levitation” line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.”  Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

The major philosophical difference mapped out between President Obama and Governor Jindal is the proper role of the federal government. 

The President argued that there are three big government solutions to our current economic crisis:

  1. “So the recovery plan we passed was the first step in getting our economy back on track.”  The $787 billion dollar plan, heavy on government spending, an expansion of entitlement spending, and thin on tax cuts is merely the first government mandated stab at fixing the economy.
  2. “Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages.”  CNBC’s Rick Santelli said, “The government is promoting bad behavior” with this new plan.  Santelli asked, why don’t we have a national referendum “to see we really want to subsidize the loser’s mortgages.”  The plan rewards the estimated 10% of Americans who are either in foreclosure or late in payments on their mortgage to the detriment of the 90% who are responsibly paying mortgages on time.
  3. “Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times.”  Operative words “full force of the federal government.”

Governor Jindal argues that other measures need to be taken to create a vibrant economy.

  1. To keep energy prices down, “increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power, and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home.  We believe that Americans can do anything and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.”  Although many conservatives would disagree that he federal government should mandate conservation, energy efficiency, alternative and renewable fuels, all conservatives can agree that unleashing the innovative spirit of Americans is a laudable goal.
  2. “Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients – not by government bureaucrats.”  A universal government run health care system will not be good for the health care economy, nor the patients that rely on the life saving services provided by our nation’s doctors.  As the joke goes, if American moves toward a socialist system of government run health care, where will Canadians go to get their health care?
  3. On education – school choice is a model that has worked in Louisiana.  “After Katrina, we reinvented the New Orleans school system – opening dozens of new charter schools, and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice.”

The bottom line is that Governor Jindal may not have made all the arguments that conservatives wanted to hear, but he did map out an alternative vision for the economic future of our economy and a starkly different perspective on the proper role of the federal government.