Republicans love the free market. They hate socialism and big government. Conservative southern Republicans are some of the most vocal about cutting the size of government and cutting federal subsidies. It’s a pity they don’t really mean their rhetoric.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration proposed one of the few things it’s ever proposed that I thought was a great idea. Included in the 2014 budget is a plan to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) so it will be a private utility instead of a government monopoly. That would shrink the size of government and cut out subsidies for millions of people in the South who are getting electricity at cheap rates.
Republicans should have been cheering this great news. TVA is the country’s largest electric utility. Selling it would be a perfect demonstration of what Republicans have been talking about for years. GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater proposed in 1964 that TVA be privatized (and he lost Tennessee as a result). So how did modern Republican stalwarts against big government react?
In Alabama, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks both reacted negatively. Shelby didn’t outright dismiss the plan, but anyone who can read through political language knows what his statement means.
“I intend to carefully study any proposals to restructure TVA to ensure that it continues to deliver affordable electricity throughout the region without continuing to add to our nation’s rapidly growing debt,” Shelby told the Huntsville Times.
Brooks told the times that he’s willing to study the proposal, but, “Quite frankly, I am skeptical the president can make that case.”
In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander warned that the sale of TVA to a “profit-making entity” could lead to higher power rates for the state’s taxpayers. He told Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper that selling TVA would probably cost taxpayers money, although he didn’t explain where he got this bizarre logic.
These politicians are afraid of selling TVA because their constituents would be afraid of a change. Even though TVA rates (using Tennessee as a proxy) are pretty comparable with those from Alabama Power and Georgia Power, voters would react with alarm, assuming their rates obviously would go up if a company had to make a profit. (TVA serves all of Tennessee, plus parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia.)
Republicans in the affected areas have the opportunity to show the courage of their alleged convictions. It’s a chance for them to say to their conservative Republican voters, “We’ve been saying we want to shrink government and turn more over to the free market — and this is a step in that direction.” (It wouldn’t even be a real free-market reform, because other providers wouldn’t be allowed to compete. Still, it’s better than nothing.) But they’re not going to do that, because they’re afraid of politics. They’re hypocrites when push comes to shove.
If you’re still counting on the Republican Party to gain majorities in Congress and win the White House and then sweep the country with actions showing they mean their free market rhetoric, this should be a wake-up call to you to quit believing their nonsense. Republicans and Democrats are in this together. They both believe in big government.
Republicans don’t mean what they say about reducing the size of government. They just don’t want big government to be quite as big as what Democrats want. You’re not going to get dramatically smaller government by electing Republicans, now or ever.