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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Work continues on constructing a genuinely conservative GOP

There was a certain look of smug satisfaction on the faces of many Republicans last week as they stood behind first President Donald Trump and then Speaker Paul Ryan as each spoke about the great achievement of passing the revised version of the American Health Care Act at the White House.

Never mind the fact the legislation still has a steep hill to climb in the Senate. Not only have the upper chamber’s principled conservatives expressed distaste for the bill as-is, there are the usual “moderate” GOPers Road constructionjust waiting for their opportunity to join the Democrats and the media in hemming and hawing about “coverage” and how they have reservations about the law-to-be’s potential consequences for some now-entitled constituency.

Regardless of the good feelings of some House members, last week was not really a good one for Republicans. The disastrous betrayal of the leadership over the budget tarnished anything positive that could have resulted from the final coming together over healthcare.

The jury is still out on whether the Republicans actually made a smart political move in passing what amounts to “Obamacare-lite” but one thing’s for sure: the party’s divide over the budget still remains.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner wrote on Friday, “The House's narrow passage of a partial repeal of Obamacare dominated media coverage Thursday. Happening at the same time, but receiving little coverage, was the Senate's approval of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that was far more divisive than Obamacare among Republicans in both houses of Congress…

“In the end, the spending bill votes revealed divisions among Republicans that extend far beyond their differences over Obamacare repeal. A grand total of 20 GOP House members split with their leadership on health care, while 103 did so on spending. In the Senate, where the Republican majority is so narrow they have just two votes to spare, the GOP lost 18 votes. Those are signs of problems ahead.”

Yes indeed there are obstacles in front of them. The Republicans might want to invest in some “Road Construction Ahead” markers and appoint a couple members to hold slow/stop signs at opposite ends of the Capitol building to allow traffic through slowly for the next several months. It’s going to be a bumpy path forward for the majority party as last week proved there’s still a lot of disunion in the ranks.

If there was anything positive to be gained by the whole healthcare episode – which is not over by any means – it was the fact the party’s “moderates” were revealed to be the main obstacles to reform. Conservatives were given the rap for years as obstructionists and “purists” (always loved that word) but with the Freedom Caucus’s nearly unanimous decision to support the revised ACA, “centrists” are taking the brunt of criticism now.

That’s it. The cat’s out of the bag. The lie was exposed. The beans were spilled. The squealer squawked. The songbird sang. However you want to label it, official Washington just let slip one of its worst kept secrets, namely that the GOP isn’t a limited government party – and it certainly isn’t a conservative one either.

Conservatism in the 21st century is synonymous with fiscal discipline and principled opposition to government expansion in power and scope. The Republican leadership doesn’t seem to care about responsibly tightening the purse strings. All they want to do is spend, spend, spend and it doesn’t matter if they have to sprinkle worms into the open mouths of the baby bird Democrats to do it, either.

The Democrats aren’t any better, of course, and many would say they’re worse. It’s funny how when the Republicans managed to pass the ACA by a token few votes last week (with all 192 Democrats voting nay) someone in the blue caucus started up a version of “Na na na, hey hey hey good-bye!” as they witnessed the whole thing unfold -- a mantra often heard in sports arenas when a rival is safely behind on the scoreboard and the hometown fans start celebrating a sure win.

It wasn’t evident who started the chant but aren’t the Democrats getting a little ahead of themselves? Are they so convinced that one, Obamacare is universally popular and two that the Republican “fix” won’t make things a little better for citizens?

But regardless of the eventual outcome, time will tell how this all plays out politically. Healthcare is really only one part of the budget whole and if Republican leaders prove to be as limp and lifeless in battling the Democrats for the next two fiscal years, there will be a reckoning to pay at the ballot box.

In addition to finalizing the healthcare bill (if the House and Senate can ever agree) there’s the issue of tax reform. President Trump produced his outline for what he’d like to see and already there are grumbles from “moderates.” Like with Obamacare repeal, all Republicans ran on a platform of tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Who will win this one?

It’s really all about growth. Economist Stephen Moore wrote in Investor’s Business Daily, “[R]aising taxes on Paul to pay for a tax cut for Peter negates the positive effects of the tax reduction. This also incites powerful interest-group opposition to the tax bill and makes it less likely that it will happen — which is exactly why the left is insisting on revenue neutrality. They want to torpedo the tax cut.

“Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and I recently signed a statement urging President Trump to drop revenue neutrality because it is a trap. We called for a net tax cut, and implored him to make the cut immediately. Kudos to Trump for getting this right.

“The point of the Trump tax cut is to get more jobs and higher wages. America needs real and sustained growth of 3% or 4%.”

Macro-economics is challenging for anyone to grasp but if you want to understand it better yourself, try explaining this concept to a liberal. Democrats use most people’s ignorance on how the economy works as fodder for motivating their people to turn out and vote. So do establishment Republicans who refuse to recognize that lower tax rates equal more growth which also brings in more tax revenue.

Rich people pay most of the income taxes already, so therefore a tax cut of any sort naturally benefits them the most. But if they then turn around and spend the windfall, save it or invest it, good things happen. It’s known as economic growth, a beneficial phenomenon for everything except Democrat electoral prospects. Heck, even GOP leaders should love growth because it gives them more tax money to spend.

In the weeks ahead the “moderates” will undoubtedly play up the “tax cuts only benefit the rich” narrative. And if Trump puts as much gusto into tax reform as he did to healthcare, he’ll be even further lumped in with conservatives.

Could that produce a GOP primary challenge from the left in 2020? Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics reports, “…[John] Kasich has notably distanced himself from the president’s early entrees into policymaking. The two-term governor logged his opposition to the president’s health-care reform plan developed in conjunction with congressional Republican leaders, citing proposed Medicaid cuts.

“Kasich has also sought to establish an anti-Trump identity on foreign policy, even though these issues are not within the scope of a governor’s role. In February, Kasich attended the Munich Security Conference and conducted a live interview with CNN from there, warning about diminished American influence abroad and the administration’s mixed signals to allies.”

Berg’s article discusses Kasich’s latest book and details how the lame-duck Ohio governor won’t deny outright that he would try to test Trump down the road.

If Trump moves farther to the right on policy matters, the panic the establishment feels may equal that of early 2016 when the now president took control of the GOP primary race. Kasich – or anyone else who tries – will likely get crushed under the weight of Trump’s popularity with the base.

But certain defeat never prevented the elites from doing something stupid before. They’ll try again…and lose. They never learn.

Don’t let last week’s good feelings fool you; there’s plenty of fighting just ahead.

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