Just Say 'No' To Stimulus

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Stimulus: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is saying no to some federal bailout money. Good for him. Others now bellying up to the bailout bar will soon learn that oldest of maxims — there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Sure, Sanford would love some of the $787 billion in "stimulus" cash. But he understands what many others can't seem to grasp — that once the federal government gets into your business, it's hard to get it out again.

"Our objections to the so-called stimulus bill have been well-chronicled for the way it spends money that we don't have and for the way this printing of money could ultimately devalue the American dollar," he said.

Critics will note that Sanford will take some money from the government. He can't let his state suffer, while others gorge at the public trough. Still, any show of principle these days in rejecting federal aid is welcome.

"When one is in a hole the first order of business is to stop digging," Sanford wrote late last month, explaining his objections.

Hard to argue that logic. A number of other governors, all of them Republicans, have expressed similar concerns about the stimulus. To some, this smells of rank politics — GOP leaders trying to make President Obama look bad.

Fact is, the GOP may be the only hope left for reining in the out-of-control juggernaut that federal spending has become. On this, Sanford has credibility: In 1994, he was elected to the House, promising to limit himself to three terms and to be fiscally responsible.

As James Rose of McClatchy Newspapers recently pointed out, "While most of his colleagues abandoned their term-limit pledges, dropped plans to jettison the Department of Education and became less averse to federal spending, Sanford slept on a cot in his office, opposed most appropriations bills — and left after six years."

Compare that with, say, the government wastrels in California. They spent wildly for a decade, pushing their once-wealthy state close to bankruptcy with a $42 billion deficit. Now, they're licking their chops over the prospect of $31 billion in federal money to bail them out from the very problems they created.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes to get an added $20 billion by leveraging the state's outsized presence in the House and the Senate to get more grants in aid.

States that are greedily snapping up the taxpayers' money might want to ask someone who's been there, done that, what all this federal generosity means. Bankers, for example.

In recent weeks, a number of U.S. banks have asked to give back their taxpayer-funded government bailout money. The reason: too many strings attached. As the International Herald Tribune noted, the list of restrictions that comes with bailout money is a long one:

"U.S. financial institutions that are getting government bailout funds have been told to put off evictions and modify mortgages for distressed homeowners. They must let shareholders vote on executive pay packages. They must lower dividends, cancel employee training and morale-boosting exercises, and withdraw job offers to foreign citizens."

In short, despite White House denials, the federal government — not bankers — now runs our banking system. This is unhealthy in the extreme for our financial system and our economy.

Worse, it represents a kind of backdoor socialism and political control that will lead to a heavily regulated economy, and the dead hand of government lying on everything, smothering free enterprise with new rules, higher taxes and incompetent federal control.

So much for the pledges made that the government has "no interest" in interfering with the private sector. It does. Indeed, control, not "stimulus," is the plan.

The first step toward fiscal sobriety is saying no to money you don't deserve. No one gets anything for free. With every handout, you give up a little piece of control. The governors will learn this the hard way, as the federal government ties them down with new rules, requirements and diktats.

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