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March 7, 2006
GOP Conservatives Take A Stand

After six years of wondering what happened to the GOP's reputation for fiscal sanity, House conservatives have prepared an alternative budget that aims to uphold what brought Republicans to power in the first place -- an insistence on smaller government and significant reductions in federal spending:

With Congress heading into a politically perilous budget season, influential House conservatives plan this week to propose an austere alternative spending plan that would pare more than $650 billion over five years, balance the budget and drastically shrink three cabinet agencies.

The legislation, part of a push by some Republicans to re-establish themselves as champions of fiscal restraint, was taking shape as President Bush struck a similar theme on Monday by asking Congress to grant him line-item veto power to eliminate federal spending that he might judge wasteful. ...

Senior aides say the conservatives' plan would wring about $350 billion from Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs and save $300 billion partly through a major reorganization of the Education, Commerce and Energy Departments.

"We are putting our money where our mouth is," said one of the officials, who would discuss the proposal only without being identified because it was still being prepared for release Wednesday by leaders of the Republican Study Committee.

After watching the effort it took just to cut $40B from the budget last December, conservatives in the GOP have become alarmed that the revolution has become subsumed by the Beltway spending culture. The easiest way to ensure election is to promise government spending targeted at one's constituency, and when politicians turn off the spigots, the ratio of enthusiasm for their re-election appears to directly decrease. After twelve years of mostly Republican majorities and six of controlling the White House, that culture has made fiscal restraint a faint but pleasant memory.

The conservatives, let by Mike Pence and Jeb Hensarling, aim to bring back the old days before the midterm elections. With the president's numbers dropping and with the traditional lack of coattails in the sixth year of any presidency, the Republicans need to remind themselves why a disgusted electorate finally tossed the Democrats out of power after over forty years of controlling the nation's pursestrings. The preliminary information shows that they will approach this along traditional Republican lines -- maintaining a strong defense but going after the biggest entitlement programs and scaling back Washington's bureaucracy.

Let's talk about Medicare first. The program has bloated far past its mission to provide health coverage to the neediest Americans. It provides no means test to determine whether it serves that purpose at all. The scale of its mandate has swollen so badly that it will eat up eight times the amount of federal resources than Social Security in coming years, dwarfing that problem and swamping out the rest of the federal budget. Yet the White House has chosen to focus more on Social Security, assessing with some good cause that its issues can be solved now with less pain and retooling than Medicare. The House conservatives have taken the approach that the biggest problems need resolution first in order to save the most money.

As part of that effort, the alternative budget sharply cuts back on three bureaucracies that have long irritated conservatives: Energy, Commerce, and Education. The latter especially is seen as an incursion into what should be local and state provenance. George Bush has escalated federal education spending in terms that even Ted Kennedy could appreciate, but the real reforms promised have not yet materialized: school choice and real accountability for results. The better approach appears to be putting education issues back into the local communities where they belong and mandating a system that allows for competition between schools to provide the proper motivation for improvement. It's time that we challenged the socialist model of schooling as that seems to have left our most vulnerable children trapped in schools that do not allow them to learn.

The House conservatives offer a return to fiscal sanity on Republican terms -- less government, less bureaucracy, more responsiveness. The GOP should embrace this, because the Democrats will surely grab the mantle for fiscal sanity themselves -- and the cuts they make will not at all look like the cuts needed.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 7, 2006 6:35 AM

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