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Dr. Merrill Matthews
January 10, 2017
PolicyBytes 14.02
Republicans’ Biggest Challenge: Remaining Small-Government Conservatives

Nearly every elected Republican—including President-elect Donald Trump—campaigned on being a small-government conservative who supported cutting taxes, spending and regulations. That’s easier pledged than done—especially when you control both the legislative and executive branches.
The cracks in the dam are already forming. Several Republicans are nervous about repealing Obamacare, even though virtually all of them campaigned on exactly that. Others are calling for large increases in defense and infrastructure spending and a return to earmarks. Still others want to cut taxes, especially the corporate tax rate—which IPI strongly supports—but are ignoring the possible need for major spending cuts to avoid growing the federal debt.
Remember, Republicans agreed to shred the sequester dealthe best fiscal restraint mechanism we have ever seen—in order to get Democrats to sign off on a federal budget. That action was defended on the grounds that Congress needed to get back to “regular order” in the budget process.
But it also highlights the fact that Democrats are masters at getting Republicans to break their campaign promises. And Republicans aren’t always unwilling victims.
The problem is that throwing taxpayer money at public policy challenges is the easy way to claim to have fixed it.
Recall that when the VA scandal arose, members of Congress and President Obama promised to fix it and hold guilty people responsible. What they did, with bipartisan support, was give the VA $16 billion more and, although the secretary of the VA stepped down, almost no one in the agency was punished or lost their job.
When fraud, mismanagement and dereliction of duty—not to mention the untimely deaths of thousands of veterans—emerge, giving an agency $16 billion more may not be sending the right message.
Oh, and NO ONE thinks the VA’s problems have been solved. Indeed, they may have worsened.
To be sure, Republicans currently are talking the talk, and maybe they’ll walk the walk.
But they also talked the talk when George W. Bush was elected president and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress most of the time.
However, Republican overspending became so great that by 2006 House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi retook the House by claiming that Democrats were committed to cutting deficits and pay-as-you-go. “Fiscal responsibility is a key component of our agenda,” she told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow in 2006.
It is a sad, but instructive, day when Democrats can berate Republicans for being big spenders.
Let’s hope this time the GOP fights the impulse to campaign like Republicans but govern like Democrats.
Today's PolicyByte was written by Dr. Merrill Matthews, resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.
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