Unintended Consequences and the GSA

According to The Daily Caller, which actually reports some news despite being founded by a Republican propagandist and an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney, some Las Vegas politicians are upset about the recent scandal involving the General Services Administration—not only the profligate spending, but also that House Republican committees are so interested in investigating it.

Dina Titus, who figures to cruise in Congressional District 1, took the point on this issue, telling The Caller, “President Obama acted swiftly to punish those responsible for this blatant misuse of tax dollars. However, these hearings are nothing more than an attack on Las Vegas.  Washington Republicans should stop using Las Vegas as a punching bag to score cheap political points and start working on putting Americans back to work.” Kelvin Atkinson, who is running for the state Senate, offered similar thoughts.

They are right that the hearings aren’t all that important to finding out what went on at the GSA—the agency spent $823,000 on a Las Vegas “conference” that included everything but Mike Tyson and a tiger in the hotel room. There also are a couple of other ways to look at this:

For a couple of years, those incapable of reading have been attacking Obama over comments he made about Las Vegas. Not that what he said ultimately didn’t hurt Las Vegas, but the main reason was, frankly, the noise that several otherwise intelligent politicians made about what he said. What did he say? One of the statements was about federal stimulus spending:   “You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can’t get corporate jets. You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Obama’s error was saying that going to Las Vegas would be expensive or wasteful; it is a far less expensive conference city than other choices. But if politicians on both sides of the aisle had kept their mouths shut, would Obama’s statement have had the same impact? Bet $823,000 on no.

Now the GSA has held a conference here and spent in a profligate way. The result is not only that heads rolled, but widespread (deserved) criticism of the GSA from politicians on all sides.  Ponder this: What if the conference had been held right around the time Obama made the offending statement?

For Republicans who drove the deficit through the roof to get their knickers in a twist over this kind of spending is amusing, especially since the chances of holding House hearings about this if it had happened under the previous president might have been slightly less. But Titus and Atkinson were making a larger point, and it’s well worth pondering.

Namely, Titus’s statement is a reminder of what should be a case of buyer’s remorse. At the national level, in 1994, Newt Gingrich led the Republican Party to control of the House for the first time in 40 years with help from casinos operated by corporations that tend to prefer Republicans on the premise that they are less inclined to tax and regulate. The Republican-led House and Senate passed a bill creating a study commission that caused considerable concern in the gaming industry because it was the brainchild of anti-gaming advocates.

Republicans jumped on the opportunity to hold hearings, and everyone can agree that the GSA
acted reprehensibly. But could there be collateral damage to Las Vegas?  On the one hand, you could argue that this is an advertisement for the town: If it’s good enough for the GSA, it should be good enough for you. On the other hand, could it hurt Las Vegas to be mentioned constantly in the same breath with this kind of corruption and stupidity?  And are Republicans, wittingly or not, fostering that?  They may not intend to, but Obama didn’t intend to discourage tourists from visiting Las Vegas, either.