Rudy Giuliani: A Big-City Liberal Republican

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel writes about some things from Rudy Giuliani’s past that should cause concern for anyone who believes in fiscal conservativsm:

The date is the mid-1990s, and Republicans have swept Congress with their Contract with America. A top promise is greater fiscal responsibility, and a crucial element of that is a vow to pass a line-item veto and give the president the power to weed out pork. In 1996 Republicans are as good as their word, and grant the opposition’s Bill Clinton a broad new power to strip wasteful spending.

Mr. Clinton is enthusiastic, and in August 1997 uses his tool for the first time to strike down a special-interest provision tucked in a bill. That provision gives New York hospitals a unique right to bilk extra Medicaid money, and the veto is expected to save federal taxpayers at least $200 million. Quicker than a Big Apple pol can say “pork,” New York officials sue, challenging the line item veto’s constitutionality. That suit, Clinton v. City of New York, goes all the way to the Supremes, which in 1998 put the kibosh on veto authority.

The kicker? The guy who brought the suit and won–or, rather, the guy who helped stall one of the more powerful tools for reining in government spending–was none other than former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

And that’s not the only example of the disdain that Giuliani had for fiscal restraint during his time as Mayor of New York:

[N]o one should forget Mr. Giuliani came up through the big-city system. It’s tough to be principled in a town defined by crushing social costs, all-powerful unions and party machines. Harder still when you are the only Republican in 50 miles. For all of Mr. Giuliani’s initial reform fervor (it eventually waned), he was a master at parochial politics, at throwing idealism under the double-decker tour bus if it meant getting more for the Big Apple–no matter who paid for it.

Take the line-item veto. For decades New York had taken advantage of a special program that allowed it alone to reap extra federal Medicaid dollars. The city’s broken health system was dependent on this booty, and its loss would have required painful change. Mr. Giuliani instead sued, portraying the issue as us-against-them. When he won, his press release declared it a “great victory” for “the people of the city, the state and the constitution of the U.S.” No mention of the other Americans who got to float NYC’s bills.

Here’s another one: Out-of-city residents had long complained about New York’s onerous commuter tax, and in 1999 the state legislature moved for repeal. Rightfully so, since it was unprincipled and bad economic policy. Yet it gave New York City $360 million a year, which is why Mr. Giuliani fought (unsuccessfully) against its end. Or take Nafta, which Mr. Giuliani complained would be bad for New York.

Rudy Giuliani has become very adept at using the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism during his time as a Presidential candidate. The important question, though, is not what he says, but what he would do as President. His record as Mayor of New York would seem to indicate that his allegience to fiscal restraint would be minimal at best.