The Republican Party has always had the reputation of being the party of smaller government – yet in the years where GOP has control of the White House, the Senate, and the House, non-defense discretionary spending has skyrocketed. The Bush Administration’s single biggest flaw in terms of domestic policy has been its utter unwillingness to control the rate of growth in government. Bush’s tax cuts have helped grow the economy, but the rate of spending – especially the massive fiscal burden of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement – threaten the fiscal future of this country.
Moreover, they hurt the future of the Republican Party. The three most basic tenets of the GOP since the Reagan Revolution have been 1) rolling back the size and intrusiveness of government, 2) defending the institution of the American family and American civic culture, and 3) a strong national defense. There are tensions between those goals, but they represent the core values of our party, broad principles which all Republicans agree on and aspire to. President Bush is resolute on the third, strong on the second, but has abandoned the first.
Republicans by and large understand that government power and individual liberty are at odds with each other. The growth of the state by necessity requires the abdication of small amounts of personal liberty. This country was founded upon the notion that civil society, not the state, is the best agent of action for dealing with this country’s problems. In the balance between state power and personal liberty, liberty should take precedence. President Reagan, a man who represented some of the best of modern conservatism, understood this and was unafraid to share that message with the American public.
President Bush faces the unprecedented task of having to rebuild miles upon miles of devastated coastline while a second massive storm threatens to unleash similar devastation. The costs of rebuilding from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be massive, and the federal government has a statutory obligation to help the region rebuild. Such an effort combined with the ongoing worldwide war on terrorism and the other crucial functions of government add to the fiscal strain.
Now, more than ever, President Bush must demand that Congress restrain spending. This country faces a crisis that is unprecedented in our history – and the true test of President Bush’s leadership will be in how he rises to the occasion and leads this country.
Circumstances have not been kind to President Bush. The level of strain placed upon him by the events of his Presidency is something most Americans can only imagine. The vitriolic and hate-filled rhetoric launched at him by his opponents is unprecedented in modern history. Yet the burden of leadership demands action. President Bush was too slow in personally showing leadership after Katrina, and his poll numbers have suffered as a result. He faces the hatred of the Democrats, but also a Republican Party that is rightfully worried about the direction of this country and our fiscal future.
President Bush went from an isolationist to a nation-builder by necessity following the terrible events of September 11, 2001. Now, necessity demands that he go from being a big spender to a fiscal hawk. We do not need more pork, we need to focus all of our government’s efforts at meeting the immediate needs of war and reconstruction. Every member of Congress has a patriotic duty to put the good of the country as a whole over sending pork to their districts. And the President should lead them in that regard by promising to veto any appropriations bill that includes unnecessary pork projects. The President should work with Congress to stop the Medicare prescription drug benefit and replace it with a targeted program that gives drugs only to those who have a true need for it.
In a time of crisis, Americans are perfectly willing to make sacrifices. Republicans must reassert the values of fiscal discipline and smaller government. It was a good idea then; it has become critical now.
If Republican members of Congress cannot control their urge to spending, the political backlash will be huge. The future of this country, and the future of our party depends on our willingness to stand firm on the core values of our party. Our President needs to show leadership, and our Congress needs to follow. The political power of the Republican Party is based on the strength of our principles, and we will win or lose based largely in part into how well we defend and establish those principles. It is time to affirm our identity as the party of small government or risk losing that which defines us as a party.