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Op-ed Placement

Will the Real Fiscal Conservatives Please Stand Up?

BY Adam Brandon
02/24/2020
Originally Published in The Washington Examiner by Adam Brandon on 2/21/20.

When acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tore into Republicans for hypocritically voting to increase spending for the past three years after railing against high deficits during the Obama years, he was simply echoing a sentiment deeply held for years by the grassroots. Citing the “extremely disturbing” $1 trillion deficit, Mulvaney hit the nail on the head.

In his pointed attack against congressional Republicans, Mulvaney correctly observed that “the worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president.” Yet as soon as President Trump, who has expressed openness to spending cuts, became president, the party became “a lot less interested” in deficit reduction.

Practically every Republican currently sitting in either the House or Senate campaigned on fiscal responsibility. They all claimed to be dedicated to fighting against the rising deficit. Yet when appropriations season rolls around, the GOP loses its backbone. Only a few members, such as Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee and a number of those in the House Freedom Caucus, have remained steadfast in their commitment to conservative principles.

Some on the Right like to blame our current fiscal situation entirely on the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. But Democrats only bear some of the blame for our eye-popping debt. It’s important to remember that it was congressional Republicans’ insatiable thirst for more defense spending that led them time and time again to break the hard-won spending caps achieved during the Obama years. In fact, they finally shredded the final vestiges of these spending restraints last year, with defense spending expected to exceed $724 billion this year alone (up from just under $600 billion just three years ago).

Former Speaker Paul Ryan is, perhaps, the best example of the hypocrisy permeating the modern GOP. Although Ryan nearly held total control of the budget process, deficits increased each and every year of his tenure. As chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2011, Ryan talked the typical talk, constantly emphasizing that “we are driving our country and our economy off a cliff” and that “we can’t keep spending money we don’t have.”

However, when he held the reins and could have used his power to decrease unnecessary spending significantly, Ryan chose instead to “keep spending money we don’t have” at even higher rates than before. Then, after retiring from Congress in 2018, Ryan had the audacity to claim that his biggest regret was failing to decrease the national debt. Such lamentation from one of the few people who had the power to influence the budget process for the better is simply too little, too late.

But Ryan doesn’t deserve all of the blame for the lack of fiscal restraint. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who reportedly stated that “no politician [has] ever lost office for spending more money,” and much of his conference must also be held accountable for their failure to uphold conservative principles.

According to a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, if the current fiscal trajectory of our country is not corrected, we face trillion-dollar deficits forever. The Congressional Budget Office projections show that even if spending levels aren’t increased by a single penny, we will still add an estimated $12.8 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to see that this path is unsustainable and must be rectified before it’s too late.

Mulvaney is right. Trillion-dollar deficits are “extremely disturbing.” The only thing more disturbing is that few self-professed “conservative” members of Congress seem willing to do anything about it. Mulvaney has been lambasted in both the liberal and conservative media for preaching the truth.

Congressional Republicans have, thus far, neglected their campaign promises and abdicated their responsibility to the nation. Republicans owe it not only to themselves but to future generations to get our fiscal house in order. But in order to do that, congressional Republicans will have to begin following the principles that they preach on the campaign trail.

The grassroots are watching, and the “party of small government” needs to start acting like it.