The Republican dilemma: Reduce federal spending, but don’t you dare cut my special interests

Chris Moody Contributor
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George LeMieux wants to cut government spending and shrink the federal government. That is, unless you’re talking about paying for space ships that fly to asteroids.

The former Florida Republican senator, who recently launched his campaign to unseat current Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, vowed Tuesday to increase spending for the nation’s space exploration program while simultaneously touting his record on limited government.

“There are very few things the federal government should be doing,” LeMieux said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But one of the few things the federal government can only do is space exploration. We are seeing good private sector folks that are trying to go into low- Earth orbit and that’s great and we should encourage them, but the only folks that are going to go to an asteroid or go to Mars is going to be NASA.”

You see, space ships are to the Sunshine State what farm subsidies are to Iowa. And for Republican candidates straining to out-Tea Party fellow conservatives in the primaries, the massive federal spending on the behalf of the nation’s farmers and rocket scientists can be a real dilemma. In the presidential race, almost all of the GOP candidates currently courting the right wing of the party have voiced passionate defenses for farm welfare, which costs the federal government billions every year.

NASA, a program of the federal government that is costing taxpayers nearly $20 billion this year, has deep stakes in Florida, and employs thousands in the state. LeMieux, who doesn’t support President Obama’s economic “stimulus” program that creates jobs through massive federal spending, made a passionate case for how, at least in the case of space exploration, government spending creates jobs.

“Do we really need 100,000 people working at the Department of Agriculture? Do we need all of these other agencies of government that aren’t really achieving things for the American people? Shouldn’t we instead say let’s fully fund the space program because we know, one, it creates jobs, two it creates scientific innovation, three, it gives us stature among people of the world. I mean it certainly helps in our diplomacy when we’re dealing with folks if we are leading the world in space exploration,” he said.

He’s certainly not alone. Almost all potential Florida up-and-comers looking to make waves on the national scene must defend NASA to make it anywhere beyond Tallahassee. LeMieux’s opponents for the Senate seat, state Rep. Adam Hasner, who likes to brag that he gets “criticized for being too conservative,” and Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos both support massive government spending on space exploration.

In a way, Florida can be a brutal place for conservatives. On one hand, the political environment is ripe for politicians like Republican Sen. Marco Rubio who believe in free markets and limited government. But on the other, Florida is a state with a massive aging population, strong ties to federal programs like NASA, and a thriving Hispanic community. For a party that wants to reform Medicare, cut federal programs and stay tough on immigration, candidates must walk a fine line.

And LeMieux, who called cuts to the space program “criminal,” is no exception.

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