Archive for April, 2013

Republicans Are Part of the Problem

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Originally posted at the Coalition to Reduce Spending

This week at National Review, Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute published an interesting commentary entitled, “How Serious Are Republicans?” in which he chronicles how the alleged party of fiscal responsibility is falling short in several ways, even with a big spending Democratic President in office that they’re constantly seeking to oppose. However, as Tanner explains, blind partisan reflexes are often part of the problem.

For example, Tanner points out opposition to some of the President’s proposals such as Medicare cuts and the chained CPI reform. Of course, there may be reasons to oppose these measures – particularly chained CPI, because although it could be construed as a step in the right direction there’s an argument to be made that it’s a tax increase. But as Tanner goes on to chronicle, the problem goes beyond some Republicans acting in reactionary partisan ways. The fact is, too many elected officials in the GOP are just as tied to special interests as their bigger-spending congressional colleagues.

As Tanner states,

“Recall that during last year’s presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s big complaint about Obamacare was that it cut $716 billion from Medicare over ten years. Medicare is facing a minimum of $42 trillion in future red ink. Perhaps someone should be praised for cutting it. It would have made sense to criticize the president for spending those savings on other aspects of Obamacare. One could certainly question whether the president’s proposed cuts were the best way to reduce Medicare spending, or even whether they would be effective. But Governor Romney focused his criticism on the idea of the cuts themselves.

Elsewhere, Republicans continue to resist any efforts to reduce defense spending. Modest defense cuts were included in the sequester of course — over the strenuous objections of GOP hawks such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Representative Buck McKeon. But advocates of increased defense spending have hardly given up the fight — expect continued efforts this fall to undo the sequester’s effects on the Pentagon.

There is also some parochialism: attempting to funnel federal money to one’s district at the expense of the broader public purse. Thus Representative Steve Stockman of Texas opposes cuts to NASA (invoking the specter of an asteroid crashing into Earth), and Representative Jim Jordan pushes the army to buy Abrams tanks, built in his home state of Ohio, it says it doesn’t need. Republican senators from farm states are among the biggest defenders of farm subsidies. Representatives from the northeast demanded federal assistance after Hurricane Sandy. And so on.”

This speaks to the fundamental problem with the incentives that elected officials face in DC. When a basic role federal politicians are expected to undertake is bringing back the bacon not only to their districts but to lobbyists, nothing will change. That’s why at the Coalition to Reduce Spending we believe reform must start at home. When politicians are actively amidst their constituents, making what often turn out to be false promises, inserting an accountability mechanism into that process is key.

This speaks to the power of our Reject the Debt pledge, which can be effectively used as a leverage point, especially in primary contests between candidates. Getting a candidate to sign his name to a spending reduction commitment through pressure from his potential or current constituents is a great way to hold his feet to the fire in the event that he does in fact find himself either back in Washington, or there for the first time.

Amidst nearly $17 trillion in debt with $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the time for vague promises is over. As Michael Tanner so aptly explained, the problem is a bipartisan one. Thus, it must be answered with a non-partisan, constituent centered solution. If a candidate can’t put pen to paper on his campaign promises, why utter the words in the first place?