In the upcoming midterm elections, all 435 seats in the House and 33 of those in the Senate will be subjected to the rigors of the democratic process. Truth be told, however, only about 40 House seats and 10 Senate seats will face competitive challenges. Ronald Reagan was fond of noting, correctly, that during his tenure more seats changed hands in the Soviet Union’s communist-controlled Duma than in the U.S. Congress. The Soviet Duma is long gone, of course, but turnover in our Congress remains low.
Some congressional seats are free from challenge because the member occupying it has a steadfast constituent majority; others are relatively safe because the current occupants have cultivated support for enormous campaign coffers. More money ensures more media buys, and rarely can a poorly financed campaign defeat a wealthy one (which is why we call Campaign Finance Reform the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act).
However, there’s another reason why elections are rarely dynamic: cynicism.
Increasingly, Americans can’t distinguish Republicans from Democrats on key issues. Oh, it’s easy to discern some strident ideological differences between the most conservative and liberal Senators and Representatives, and the Party Platforms are notably different. Yet on the role-of-government issues – those which, historically, have divided the two parties – the “great middle” of the legislative branch falls into the “distinction without a difference” category. Indeed, while lawmakers identify themselves as Republicans and Democrats ideologically, their actions are, for the most part, indistinguishable.
Unfortunately, though a few Democrats have moved to the right, the identity problem is rooted in the fact that many Republicans drift to the left after being elected on limited government promises.
Republicans were once generally differentiated from Democrats by their reverence for our Constitution, which stipulates a limited and defined role for the central government. Hence, they were “conservative” – supporting the order of our Constitutional Republic as prescribed by our Founders.
Democrats, on the other hand, advocated a more liberal reading of that venerable document – resulting in a so-called “living constitution,” a euphemistic perversion which was never – NEVER – intended by our Founders.
As the titular head of the Republican Party, President George W. Bush has distinguished himself as a conservative when it comes to foreign policy and, certainly, admirably, when it comes to restoring the judicial branch to its proper constitutional role, but he has failed dismally when it comes to restoring, much less holding government to its proper constitutionally limited role.
At present, Republicans control the executive branch and both houses of Congress, yet the size and regulatory role of the central government has grown, largely unabated since President Bush took office. Of course, our nation’s vigorous response to the 9/11 attacks, and our pre-emptive military response to Jihadists in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, is responsible for some of that growth, but those necessary – and we might add, constitutionally mandated – expenditures have not been offset by spending cuts to domestic programs, as Mr. Bush once promised.
In fact, President Bush’s SOTU was, itself, so acquiescing to de facto social programs that it could have more aptly been titled, “The Nanny State of the Union.” Sure, his administration has made a few little nips on growth and tucks on taxes, but his fiscal budget for 2007, though leaner than previous budgets, reflects spending increases over his tenure of almost 50 percent more than Bill Clinton’s last budget.
Typical of out-of-control domestic-spending programs are the new Medicare Part D prescription drug boondoggle and the disgracefully earmarked 2005 transportation bill. Spending on a bloated government bureaucracy that Reagan Republicans once endeavored to eliminate entirely, like the Department of Education, is up 139 percent since Clinton left office.
So, this is what we’ve been fighting for?
Some suggest that this President has failed for lack of a mandate – he did, after all, lose the popular vote in 2000 to Bill Clinton’s certifiably-idiotic Albert Gore. Clinton, however, ascended to the presidency with just 43 percent of the popular vote in 1992 but was seated by the Electoral College – with a little help from Bush(41) gadfly, Ross Perot. This notwithstanding, Clinton clearly conducted his presidency as if he had a mandate.
So we’re left to ponder why, with the Senate and House under Republican leadership, George Bush has yet to embrace Ronald Reagan’s legacy, and make limited government and fair taxation his administration’s chief objectives. He did toss conservatives a bone in his recent State of the Union speech, calling on Congress to bring back the line-item veto in order to strip legislation of special-interest projects, but legislators know that potentially means “Democrat projects” and under a Democrat president, would mean “Republican projects.”
Why would anyone believe President Bush is serious about vetoing spending now? The number of pork-barrel projects has grown unabated, from 1,439 in fiscal 1995 to 13,997 in fiscal 2005 – the vast majority of that growth under Bush, and not a single veto since he took office.
The only real hope for preventing the weight of the central government from crushing the life from our Republic is to renew the bid for a constitutionally mandated balanced-budget amendment and to enact real tax reform as originally outlined by Ronald Reagan. That amendment and reform will force Congress to either make dramatic cuts in government spending or enact enormous tax increases to pay for the current distended and mostly unconstitutional government budget.
We are betting that a Balanced Budget Amendment, combined with real tax reform (read “flat or national sales tax with deductions and exclusions”) will result in a reduction in Nanny-state spending; American taxpayers will not tolerate bearing the burden of the actual cost of government. We are also betting that getting Democrats to support either measure will be next to impossible, as their power rests solely on their ability to tax and spend. Of course, President Bush and congressional leaders could always do what Ronald Reagan did – speak over Democrat heads directly to their constituents.
Unfortunately, President Bush did not utter the words “balanced budget” and “tax reform” in his SOTU speech.
Nonetheless, these measures still have strong advocacy by those Congressional Republicans who subscribe to the conservative principles outlined in our Constitution, and they are rising up and lighting a fire under President Bush. It is these Republicans, after all, who are still distinguishable from the Democrats – and who still endeavor to uphold our Constitution and the Reagan legacy.
The prospects for these reform are good, given the current leadership lineup, if the President will get on board.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist has a 92 percent overall approval rating by the American Conservative Union (ACU). Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a 96 percent ACU rating. Both have 95 percent ratings from Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), but Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) rates them with a 66 and 69 respectively.
In better news, over in the House, where members are more responsive to their constituents, Speaker Dennis Hastert has a 100 percent ACU rating, as does the new Majority Leader, John Boehner. The ACU gives House Whip Roy Blunt a 96. Their ATR ratings are 100, 100 and 95, respectively, but their ratings by CAGW are 50, 75 and 65 respectively.
The best news is the emergence of a new conservative core in the House – a core that is making significant progress toward reviving Ronald Reagan’s conservative agenda, which stalled after the departure of former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich. They’re led by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a rising star who, for the record, commands 100 percent ratings by the ACU and ATR, is labeled a “taxpayer hero” by CAGW, and was awarded a glorious zero (0) by the American Civil Liberties Union!
Rep. Pence leads a group of 100 true conservatives under the innocuous label, “The Republican Study Committee.” Here, he and his fellow conservatives have rallied around principles that Mr. Pence outlined in a speech last fall, “Another Time for Choosing,” picking up the central theme of Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing.”
To be sure, however, the RSC’s task would be much easier with President Bush leading the charge. In what remains of his second term, the President can still stir up the grassroots; he can still rally conservative leadership in the House and Senate; he can still make good on his promises to cut taxes and government spending; and he can still provide the bully-pulpit voice for the Reagan revival.
In Ronald Reagan’s words, “Our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. We are not a cult; we are members of a majority. Let’s act and talk like it. The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?”
It is time for President Bush to choose – time for this Republican President and Congress to usher in a new era of restraint, responsibility and respect for the constitutional limitations of government; time for them to embrace Ronald Reagan’s legacy, and make limited government and fair taxation this administration’s principal objectives for the remainder of its second term.
As Samuel Adams noted, “Let us consider, brethren, we are struggling for our best birthrights and inheritance… Let us disappoint the Men who are raising themselves on the ruin of this Country.”
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