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Outsiders vs. Insiders: GOP spending snafu is a huge quandary heading into November elections

If we’re truly serious about draining the swamp, wouldn’t it make sense to toss out the swamp creatures first?

Lost among the recent back-and-forth over illegal immigrant family separation was the greater issue of the growing federal budget deficit, the monstrous national debt and the political class’s complete inability to Republican leadersaddress either problem by cutting federal spending. Late last year Republicans passed a supply-side tax cut which promised to grow the economy and incrementally boost tax revenues – which it has – but there’s been little or no attention paid to how much the government wastes and borrows every second of the day.

As of last weekend the national debt was ticking up steadily at over $21.167 trillion, a number so large it’s incomprehensible to the average person – and a lot of non-average people too. The establishment media doesn’t hide the figures from Americans but it also doesn’t go out of its way to highlight the quandary either, instead preferring to draw eyeballs and internet clicks through showcasing images of children in cages and crying parents at the southern border.

Both political parties are to blame for the largesse and irresponsibility; Democrats have never seen a big government program they didn’t love and Republicans are held hostage to the liberal/moderate members of their caucus. The GOP failed at another attempt to trim a micro-fraction of the budget last week. The party of Ronald Reagan and current congressional majorities can’t seem to get its fiscal act together, leaving liberty-loving small government conservatives frustrated, angry and calling for blood (figuratively of course).

The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl wrote at National Review, “[T]he ‘rescission’ bill would have cancelled $15 billion in spending authority, of which only $1.3 billion was ever going to be spent anyway. (The rest was expired or no longer necessary.) Rescinding those expired funds prevents congressional spenders from later using them as a fake offset for new spending — which happened as recently as this past March…

“[T]he GOP congressional majority could not pass the rescission. After 19 House Republicans nearly sank the bill, it died in the Senate when Senators Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) voted with the Democrats to defeat it. Senator Burr told reporters he cast the deciding vote because ‘it cut $16 million out of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Period, end of sentence.’

“So there you have it. A party that brags about theoretically supporting $6,454,000 million in spending cuts balks at actually cutting $16 million. Earlier this year, the same party replaced its hard-fought discretionary-spending caps with a spending blowout that will likely cost $1.5 trillion over the decade. And then on Thursday, House Republicans voted to continue spending $20 billion annually on welfare for large agribusinesses. No net cuts at all.”

No doubt the poohbahs in the halls of Republican Party headquarters aren’t happy to see reports like this one gracing the homepage of National Review, but it’s impossible to understate just how bad the predicament is with the GOP in Congress. If two Republican senators (along with every single Democrat) were responsible for sinking spending cuts that would amount to half a drop in the proverbial debt bucket, the rot is pretty deep in the Washington swamp.

The good news is it looks like 48 Republicans voted for the miniscule cuts – but two naysayers fostered yet another embarrassing public relations disaster for the party. Burr’s quote above is a travesty – he sank the entire bill because of $16 million? How many votes is his fecklessness going to cost Republicans in November? What argument can candidates make for being the party of fiscal responsibility when they can’t even muster a majority for cuts when they’re in control?

It's tempting to place the blame solely at the feet of Burr and Susan Collins for acting like Democrats when it comes time to trim a tiny piece of fat from the bloated federal pig. But where is the “leadership” here? Couldn’t/shouldn’t Mitch McConnell be doing more (threatening to pull committee posts, etc.) when the entire party’s reputation is on the line?

Let’s not forget there were a number of honorariums recently when McConnell became the longest serving GOP leader in Senate history (he passed Bob Dole). Plenty of back slaps were in order for the Kentucky establishmentarian – heck, he’s occupied the seat of power for more time than any Republican ever has – and what’s he got to brag about? What does the Republican Party have to show for McConnell’s longevity?

Until there’s a roar from the grassroots vowing to toss out guilty incumbents in primaries nothing will ever change. Every six years GOP senate candidates swear to responsibly manage the country’s purse strings but then (some) melt when they’re put under the glaring lights of the Washington media. Until something is done at the leadership level to ensure that members vote to avoid party humiliations, this type of thing will keep occurring.

Conservatives were up in arms a few months ago when Congress passed another bloated omnibus budget bill and the GOP establishment went nuts when President Trump threatened to veto it – which would’ve forced another temporary government shutdown. “We were sent to Washington to do our jobs!” is the common refrain whenever budget matters are open before the public.

Many say the answer is to throw the bums out! But it won’t bring about any change unless the new crop of “bums” has more backbone than the last. American needs a new generation of politicians who care more about the government’s faulty bottom line than they do about a pet project or big donor’s campaign contribution.

Would term limits help? Heather Wilhelm of National Review wrote, “After a week of political chaos, endless dispatches of depressing news from the border, and widespread evidence of years of government incompetence, I have a proposal certain to unite citizens of all political stripes. Here it is: Let’s fire every single politician in Washington, D.C.

“Admit it, friends: Deep down, you love this plan. In an ideal world, you might want to fire every single politician in Washington, D.C., right away — I personally have a few honorable and notable exceptions in mind, but it’s probably best to keep everyone on their toes — but we all know that’s not realistic. Fortunately, there’s an alternative idea that is at least somewhat realistic, despite naysayers from both parties: term limits.

“We already have term limits for the president, of course, which I hope you find marvelous no matter who is in office. But what about Congress, that multi-headed beast with a 17 percent approval rating and an impressive penchant for getting almost nothing meaningful or important done?”

At the end of her article Wilhelm points out that there’s currently a proposal to limit congressional terms to twelve years (six House terms and two senate terms), which of course would require a constitutional amendment to enact. In other words, today’s swamp creatures would need to vote to voluntarily restrict their tenures in the bog (hence, triggering the amendment process), which in the past has never been a popular proposition.

Term limits are one of those things which most people nod their heads in the affirmative whenever the suggestion is made yet never seems to get far when the moment comes to speak up and pass them. It’s kind of like swearing to “keep in touch” when you’re about to move away but never call or email after the parting.

It's almost as though term limits present too simple of a solution for most people. Theoretically speaking elections are supposed to act as natural barriers to long careers in Congress. In addition, politicians were never intended to spend a working lifetime in the national legislature. In olden times it took days or weeks to reach the capital and to spend a few months debating and passing the nation’s business was sufficient; serving was only intended to be a distraction from the business back home, a “civic duty” capable people took on willingly for the public good.

Nowadays being a congressman or senator is seen as a great job with a lot of perks, lots of fame and once elected, a promising life with a terrific pension plan. Politicians’ egos inflate when drunk with power; tossing about billions (or trillions) of dollars must be quite a rush, and most of them naively believe they’re personally indispensable once they get to Washington. Would the next person be able to do as good a job as me on issue x?

Humility is in short order in the political class, especially within the ranks of party leadership. As noted above McConnell’s already the longest serving Republican senate leader and has vowed to run again in 2020. Unless the GOP senate caucus pushes him aside Mitch could theoretically be there until…you fill in the blank.

Similarly Nancy Pelosi has been the Democrats’ House leader for well over a decade and it’s widely known she wants to be Speaker again should Democrats regain the majority this November.

A constitutional amendment could be the only way real reform would be realized. Many prominent conservatives (such as Mark Levin) have advanced the idea of an Article V constitutional convention to completely overhaul the government – and it may take something like this to accomplish what’s necessary. The states themselves would need to call for it…good luck getting the big blue ones to agree to come together to limit the federal government’s reach.

Reform must therefore come from within. But there aren’t many signs the parties even recognize there’s a problem. Parties are all about raising money, winning elections and prolonging the status quo. Apparently the GOP is doing well this year.

Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner wrote, “Despite polls showing Republicans trailing in polls, the GOP’s top leader has revealed that it has raised more money in a midterm election year than any party in history and that its voter turnout plan is beating Democrats in some key districts.

“’The RNC is investing in over 70 races across the country,’ said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. ‘We're already on the ground in 27 states. In California two weeks ago, there were seven races where Hillary Clinton won those districts. In six of those districts, more Republicans turned out than Democrats. That is very good for us in those primaries.’…

“’We have hit the $184 million mark. We plan to have raised $250 million, to have a quarter of a billion dollars to put into this election -- which has never happened before. I think we're absolutely going to hit that mark. We know it's going to take those resources,’ she added.”

McDaniel also touted the party’s data operations and how they’re hoping to fully train 15,000 “volunteers” for this election cycle (they only had 5,000 for the 2016 election). Finding loyal voters and targeting them individually (based on their personal concerns) is where it’s at these days. I wonder how many voters are going to say “the budget deficit” is vitally important to them this year – what’s the party’s answer?

Republicans simply cannot go on painting a rosy picture of the party’s platform yet fail to produce results when voters entrust them with majorities. A change in leadership (in both chambers) would do the GOP well. It’s great that fundraising and the behind-the-scenes organizing is working well – but the party’s wilting where it counts.

It goes without saying it’ll take years to drain the Washington swamp and there’s no one person that can fully realize it. An informed citizenry is vital to the health of any Republic – otherwise elected representatives won’t do their jobs. It’s particularly problematic in the GOP right now.

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