- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

I consider myself part of a generation of conservatives that must pick up the challenge once carried by conservative giants. The Reagans, Goldwaters, Buckleys and Kristols have passed their mantles fully to us now. Historians will look at this time as a coming-of-age story, and we have already lingered too long in a petulant adolescence that betrayed our fundamental precepts by indulging in reckless debt. We are no longer staff or admirers but keepers and fosterers of a sacred trust upon which depends the revitalization of our cause.

The fortunes of the Republican Party will usefully tend to themselves so long as conservatives tend to the fires of liberty. Our founding value and central aim must be to preserve freedom, and the front lines will be a fight over federal spending. We must give voice to fiscal reason and responsibility in the knowledge that individual liberty is inexorably linked to individual prosperity. That prosperity is under threat from ever-expanding federal spending. A nation in debt cannot offer the opportunity of years past to the children of our future.

We may have to give fiscal responsibility voice until we are hoarse, but we are compelled to shout. In our exclamation we will restore public trust and revitalize our cause. We may well have to pick some fights that initially strike some as grandstanding, but their necessity will soon be realized.

Our adolescence was marked by real challenges abroad that required an expansion of government to provide for the common defense. We expanded in the knowledge that liberty abroad has no rear guard if America drops the gauntlet. However, many in our own ranks were also gluttons for perks, pork and privilege. We were not alone in our over-indulgence. Individuals joined corporate America and government in living beyond our means.

Now, the American people are growing uncomfortable with the liberals’ choice to solve the problem by heaping the debt on our children and grandchildren. They see this craven shifting of responsibility for what it is and it lies uneasily on their conscience. The resurrection of death taxes will not be enough to satisfy the debt. So much has been pushed on future generations that it is not unreasonable to speak of a “birth tax” amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Indeed, to meet the debt, the next generation could well face across-the-board tax rates that are double those of today - and that is before Uncle Sam becomes “Dr. Sam.”

For conservatives freedom’s enemy continues to be debt compounded by unwitting but well-meaning bureaucrats who believe “hope” can only come from spending. Government rushes to solve every problem between political seasons, but only adds layer upon dysfunctional layer of government. The layers harden and the bureaucracy becomes unresponsive, ineffective and self-serving — a leviathan that demands an ever-larger portion of our individual productivity.

If conservatives prove themselves the reasonable stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars — even in the minority — we will restore public trust. We must reject the notion that elected officials are public partners and return to our roles as public servants in the spirit of our predecessors.

We have to campaign for earmark reform to curb the use of this gateway drug to bloated budgets. We have to fight to cut spending, not in a targeted way, but across the board in a manner that requires every federal agency and department to share in reduced budgets.

I have sworn off earmarks and attempted to apply 5 percent spending cuts to most appropriations bills this year. With every amendment, more and more of my conservative colleagues join the fight. The tactical implications of this strategy may appear to be overly simplistic, however, it is the commitment to curb our list of wants and tend to necessities that will lead to fiscal responsibility.

My generation did not coin the word “conservative.” Indeed, it seems imprecise for our time. Conservationist or preservationist is perhaps more accurate. In being agents of conservation where Americans’ bank accounts are concerned, we will earn the trust required to be the conservators of liberty once again.

• Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, has served in the U.S. House since 2003.

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