What Ever Happened to Fiscal Conservatism?

Republicans used to be the party of fiscal conservatism. In theory, this meant cutting the cost of the federal government and limiting its functions closer to what was specified in the Constitution. In practice, it never got much further than cutting the rate of increase in spending as in President Reagan’s term. But President Reagan had a Democratic Congress.

President Trump and the Republican Congress had a rare and unique opportunity to actually cut spending. You can’t accomplish miracles in just two years. But you could at least make a start in the right direction. If nothing else, make the Democrats fight to restore the cut spending when they’re back in office in 2 or 4 more years. Where’s your sense of principle, Republicans?

President Trump has said we need more Republicans in Congress to cut wasteful spending. But how would more people like John McCain, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan lead to greater fiscal restraint?

Senator Rand Paul, one of the few fiscal conservatives left in Congress (at least in theory), put it well:

“I can give you a quick example of some of the stuff we spend money on: We spent $700,000 last year studying what Neil Armstrong said when he landed on the moon,” Paul said this past weekend. “You remember, he said, ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Well, some idiot in government took $700,000 of taxpayer money and wanted to know whether he said, ‘One small step for man’ or,’One small step for a man.’ So that’s the kind of stuff your government is spending money on.”

Here’s the problem. If you let someone else have handouts from the government for their pet project – no matter how absurd or narrow – then you have to let everyone have handouts from the government. It’s as simple as that.

The only solution will be to stop handouts altogether. For everyone. Anything short of that, and the spending and borrowing will continue into oblivion.

What will oblivion look like? That’s my question. We talk about government spending. But most government spending is government borrowing. Medicare is not a self-sustaining program. It spends and borrows way more than there will ever be enough people to finance it. And Social Security, with millions more becoming eligible for disability under Social Security every day, is not self-sustaining, either. Nothing is sacred because nothing about what our government does is logical, reasonable or honest.

If Medicare and Social Security were perfectly reasonable, sustainable programs that only people who “pay into” them receive money for, then these programs would flourish in the private market. There’s little question that people would fare better in a private market if the federal government stayed out of health care and retirement pensions altogether. If government had done for computer technology, food and smart phones what it has tried to do for health care, retirement and education, we would have no computer technology, food or smart phones. The market rules, and it should.

I want our elected officials – Republicans most of all, because they’re now the ones in charge – to explain to me why unlimited borrowing is not a bad thing. I want to know how it’s morally justified to place the burden of debt on people who will be born 100 or 200 years from now. I want to know why it’s not an economic disaster to extend borrowing, unlimited into the future. Because if it’s not, then why doesn’t the government just write a check for a billion dollars to every American citizen? Or everyone on the planet, for that matter, since we appear to have taken on responsibility for non-Americans as well?

Those of us paying attention knew fiscal conservatism was dead – even as a pretense – back in the George W. Bush administration. But none of this evasion will alter facts. Sooner or later, it will all come due. And it won’t be pretty.

Follow Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1