Republicans from Congress seemed to be preaching to the choir Friday when they extolled the virtues of less spending and less regulation to area business leaders.
“We need to take a second look at everything and apply the standard: Should government be doing anything at all?” said Rep. Linda Smith of Vancouver.
But Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry was willing to change hymnals. Not all federal spending, he told the Washington State Economic Forum, can be written off as a waste of money.
“There isn’t a government program that can’t be made more effective or efficient,” Lowry told a luncheon crowd at the Spokane Center. “But saying these are failed attempts to throw money at a problem simply isn’t true.”
Smith joined Reps. George Nethercutt of Spokane and Doc Hastings of Richland on panels discussing prospects for state growth.
Nethercutt said the federal government can best help business by freeing it from as much regulation as possible and passing money for many programs to the states through block grants.
“The tax dollars that go to administration and regulation are not productive dollars,” Nethercutt said. “It is better to give the homeless person on the street $20 than to send that money to Washington and have money taken out for administration.”
He also defended his vote to redraft the regulations that govern food safety, which were strengthened after several deaths in Washington state from E. coli contamination. Nethercutt said the meat packing industry and its workers need more say in the writing of new regulations.
“The desire is to have safe food …but not over-regulation by an agency,” he said. “We should not show it as helping business and hurting consumers.”
Sandwiched between morning and afternoon panel discussions featuring the congressional delegation, Lowry tried to defend government spending.
The federal government needs to form partnerships with the states, communities and business, he said. But it can’t walk away from its responsibilities.
Spending money on infant nutrition and prenatal care now saves medical expenses in the future, he said. Social Security and Medicare, two of the largest federal programs, have cut the poverty rate for seniors in half in the last 40 years.
“That is not a failed attempt to throw money at problems,” he said.
When the federal government decides to give money for programs back to the states in large, unencumbered amounts - a system known as block grants - Lowry said he hoped the state’s delegation would be wary. Congress will still have to devise a formula. That formula should recognize that some states like Washington are growing, and may need bigger block grants as their population increases.
Otherwise, he said, the state will lose out to states like New York and California, which now have more people but are growing at a slower rate.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo