Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did something Monday that few of his potential Republican primary challengers have dared: He proposed new spending.
Speaking at the annual Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum in Washington, the Georgia Republican said investing in finding a cure for the disease could save taxpayers trillions of dollars over the long haul.
It's a position that may not sit well with what has become the dominant force in the GOP, the the fiscal hawks and tea partyers who want to reduce the size and scope of government now, not later.
"In today's world, where we are trillions short, talking of new 'spending' is irresponsible," said Mark Meckler, head of the Tea Party Patriots. "Whether you call it "investment" or "spending," it's still mortgaging the future of the nation, when we should be grappling with a difficult reality and be figuring out how to live within our means."
The response underscores perhaps the most dramatic change in the political landscape Mr. Gingrich and the rest of the GOP field will face this election cycle: Candidates no longer have the luxury of wooing voters by promising everything and the kitchen sink.
With the federal government struggling under a $14.3 trillion national debt, the tea party movement and the grass-roots activists who will help pick the GOP presidential nominee are calling for immediate cuts, not "investments" - even if, as advocates contend, the spending pays for itself over time.
"There is no question where the tea party movement stands on fiscal issues," said Amy Kremer, head of the Tea Party Express. "It is pretty simple: We should be talking about cutting and not spending."
Monday's comments could create problems for Mr. Gingrich. In one of his first appearances since announcing his White House bid last week, he said the field of health research is "grotesquely underfunded."
"I want to know, not what we can afford in the federal budget," he said. "I what to know what [researchers] can do if they have the resources they need to accelerate the breakthroughs to save lives and to save money."
Asked how Mr. Gingrich squares his call for new investments with the grass-roots push for cuts, Rick Tyler, the campaign's spokesman, said his boss is willing to make investments that yield a payoff for taxpayers in the future.
"We are for smart budgeting which includes cuts in spending and increases where it could save billions and even trillions in future spending," Mr. Tyler said.
Promising new spending is a tradition in both parties, but this year's crop of GOP contenders has, in general, been sticking to the "less government" script that helped propel their party to big legislative victories in the midterm elections last year.
"We have a government in Washington, D.C., that was fighting recently over whether to spend $3.656 trillion or $3.7 trillion," former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty said at a recent presidential forum in New Hampshire. "The problem was it was only bringing in $2.2 trillion. We need to fundamentally change this country."
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