- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The philosophy of limited government, low taxes, restrained spending, rational regulation, rule of law, free-market capitalism, open markets, peace through strength, individual freedom and personal responsibility fits these times as well as any other. It just needs to be practiced faithfully, and taxpayers know it.

Consider government spending. You don’t have to be an economist or a conservative to know federal spending is out of control or that Americans will pay a price for the profligacy. Maybe the oldest among us won’t live long enough to pay that price, but our children and grandchildren certainly will. Indeed, many of us well into middle age will experience unacceptably high interest rates and inflation because of the deficits and debt driven by outrageous spending.

Americans know you can’t spend yourself rich, and the country can’t, either. The strength of the dollar today is no compliment to our monetary or fiscal policy; it’s a reflection of how much worse shape the euro is in.

Conservatism’s response is to reduce spending. We don’t have a $1.5 trillion deficit because we tax too little; it’s because we spend too much. While the left wants to increase already out-of-control spending, conservatives and taxpayers are for cutting it.

According to the Heritage Foundation, since 1945, annual federal spending has averaged around 20 percent to 21 percent of the total value of the goods and services produced in the United States. However, it jumped to 25 percent in recent years, much of that jump coming since President Obama took office and joined large left-leaning majorities in Congress. His proposed budget for next year calls for $3.8 trillion in spending and a deficit of $1.3 trillion, nearly triple the size of any deficit of any other president. That means he intends to spend more than ever, and borrow more than one of every three dollars he spends. Mr. Obama’s deficit would be more than twice the average of the George W. Bush years.

While we have entitlement programs that we can’t pay for, Mr. Obama and the left’s answer is to create another gigantic entitlement program — Obamacare, with a price tag well in excess of $1 trillion a year.

The product of such spending is deficits of $1 trillion or more each year of the decade. Nobody believes this path is sustainable. Nobody.

So, what to do?

We can learn the answer from governors, especially conservative governors. We actually have cut spending in our states.

As authorized by state law and mandated by our Constitution, I have cut spending just under 10 percent this year alone. (Fiscal 2010 ends June 30.) In our fiscal 2011 budget, many departments and agencies will be cut further, some to 14 percent to 17 percent below last year’s appropriations. The governor’s office will be 15.8 percent below last year, but leaders have to lead.

Some of my fellow governors have made deeper cuts. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has cut his budget by more than 20 percent.

And it’s not just Republicans. Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, eliminated an unsustainable TennCare program, took hundreds of thousands of people off the rolls and saved billions. Not pretty or easy, but Mr. Bredesen and Tennesseans knew it had to be done.

In my state, the vast majority of residents can see no appreciable difference caused by the 10 percent in cuts.

Advocacy groups have raised Cain, but there have been very few layoffs for government employees, especially compared to the 10.7 percent unemployment rate in Mississippi.

This is not to say spending cuts in government never have any negative impacts; however, the negatives from cuts this size are less than the harm that is and will be done by levels of excess spending that would give drunken sailors a bad name.

The taxpayers, who are still the majority in America, know spending can be cut and, indeed, must be cut. While the left would reduce the number of taxpayers and increase the amount the remaining taxpayers pay to the government, the taxpayer majority is looking for leaders with the courage to solve the actual problem by reducing spending.

Lady Margaret Thatcher said, “Socialism is great until you run out of other people’s money to spend.” Taxpayers think we’re as close to that point as they ever want to get, so they are ready for this simple conservative principle to be put into effect: You don’t spend all you take in, certainly not more than you take in.

It’s past time to cut — that’s right, reduce — federal spending. The sooner we start, the quicker we’ll get off this plank and start rebuilding our economy and generating private-sector jobs.

And remember, raising taxes is the enemy of controlling spending!

From my years in Washington, I know most in this town think it is impossible actually to reduce federal spending. That mindset must change, and conservatives must lead the change.

Instead of reinventing conservatism, we have to start practicing it. The taxpayers deserve no less.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was Republican national chairman from 1993 to 1997.

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