Will the Republican losses in the November election reinvigorate the fiscal conservative wing of the party ? That’s what this article in The Washington Post argues:
In Congress, the minority life is mostly talk and little action, and yet for advocates of minimal spending and low taxes, that may not turn out to be so bad. It’s easier to promote fiscal discipline in theory than to practice it as a party leader or committee chairman. Remember that $200 million-plus “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska? It still makes conservatives cringe.
“Now that Republicans are in the opposition, they’re going to be the most saintly budget hawks you can imagine,” said American Enterprise Institute economist Kevin A. Hassett. With the absence of power, he notes, comes the absence of accountability and blame. As Hassett put it, “being in the minority means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Of course, many of those who will be spouting fiscal conservatism today are the same ones who were feeding at the pork trough throughout the 10 years of Republican rule. At the same time, though, there are signs that those who were dissenting from the spend-spend-spend philosophy of the past several years are reasserting themselves:
Fiscal conservatives started to agitate days after the election, when the Republican-led 109th Congress reconvened to wrap up unfinished business. At the top of the to-do list: nine remaining spending bills for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
“We need to examine the bills in the light of the last election, in which I think the American people were unhappy with our spending habits,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) explained to reporters. He and his allies, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), want Congress to pass a “continuing resolution” to extend funding from the previous fiscal year. “We’d save the taxpayers a lot of money,” Sessions said.
Their quest has reinvigorated fiscal conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, which suffered several major election defeats this year. “The Senate showdown on earmarks is next week,” the club’s blog reported yesterday. “The good guys, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, are battling the appropriators and the big spenders.” The article warned, though, that the continuing resolution “isn’t a done deal
There are also indications that fiscal conservatives in the GOP may look for allies among incoming Democrats:
A chief target of the budget hawks is a group of Democratic House freshmen who won seats in conservative districts, including the Florida seat that was held by disgraced Rep. Mark Foley, and Tom DeLay’s former seat in Texas. Republicans call these “rented seats” and hope to win them back in 2008.
“Spending cuts resonate in a macro sense, especially if you can show they are tied specifically to waste,” [Stuart Roy, a longtime senior Republican House aide] said.
The trick, Roy added, is to avoid programs that happen to be popular, such as public television funding. “There will be a substantial number of people who will want to go out and do that.” That impulse should be resisted: “This is not a governing strategy, it is a minority strategy.”
Sounds like a strategy that, at least in the short term, just might work.