- - Friday, February 1, 2013


In this winter of conservative discontent, one of the most dispiriting things is the congressional Republicans’ rampant timidity on spending reduction. They lack both urgency and creativity on how to handle one of America’s biggest challenges.

“Manana” has become the GOP’s battle cry for limiting the size and scope of government. Spending cuts, and a consequent decrease in Uncle Sam’s role in American life, keep vanishing into an ever-receding horizon.

A congressional supercommittee was supposed to ax the budget in 2011. When the supercommittee utterly failed, conservatives were assured that by late 2012 a “fiscal cliff” would frighten even Democrats into curbing spending. Instead, Republicans swallowed higher tax rates on top earners in exchange for nothing.

“Have no fear,” GOP leaders smiled. Wielding their leverage over the national debt limit, Republicans finally would make their stand. Instead, as Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada crowed last week: “I’m very glad that [House Republicans] are going to send us a clean debt-ceiling bill,” sans even symbolic budget cuts.

Thus, Washington can borrow whatever it wants. Then, come May 19, the debt ceiling automatically will rise to cover all the borrowed money that Uncle Sam has stuffed into his pockets. (Imagine such a magic credit card in your wallet.) This nonsolution probably will crowd out potentially productive private borrowers today (hindering current growth), increase the odds of a debt crisis tomorrow (especially if higher interest rates boost debt-service costs on America’s $16.5 trillion national debt), and load a back-breaking stack of IOUs onto future generations.

Regardless, congressional Republican leaders claim they will confront President Obama and profligate Democrats over the so-called sequester. More likely, Republicans will slide their tails between their legs and run away, moping, yet again.

These constant, French army-style retreats are beyond maddening, especially since the American public looks ready for fiscal responsibility.

Asked “Is government spending being managed carefully or out of control?” a Jan. 15-17 Fox News poll discovered that 83 percent of registered voters replied “out of control,” up from 62 percent in April 2009. Only 11 percent answered “managed carefully,” down from 22 percent in April 2009.

This survey also found that 69 percent of respondents said the debt limit should be raised “only after major cuts.” Only 23 percent disagreed, calling it “reckless not to.”

If Republicans cannot lead, perhaps they should follow public opinion.

From the Emancipation Proclamation to supply-side tax cuts to reversing communism to welfare reform, the GOP has been the party of big ideas, like them or not. Yet Republicans now look brain-dead on fiscal discipline.

Why can’t they identify, say, a dozen antiquated, duplicative or destructive federal programs and terminate them? Do we still need the 1935 Rural Utilities Service, now that it has delivered electricity to Appalachia and currently stays busy by wiring farms with broadband Internet? Kill the sugar and ethanol programs, already.

Why not implement zero-based budgeting so every agency must justify its outlays from the first dollar, rather than receive fresh money atop last year’s allocation?

Why not scrap Uncle Sam’s taco-stand cash-accounting system and introduce accrual accounting, which Washington demands of publicly traded companies?

Why not turn every federal bureaucrat into a potential government-waste fighter? Those with winning suggestions could receive one-time bonuses of, say, 1 percent of the taxpayer dollars that they save.

Why not start addressing entitlements by trimming Social Security and Medicare benefits for millionaires? Let Democratic class warriors scream otherwise.

Republicans still control the U.S. House, which they constantly forget. A vast network of free-market think tanks constantly offer limited-government ideas worth advocating loudly, adopting and sending to the Democratic Senate. Republicans there should introduce these as amendments. While Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama ultimately may resist, Republicans might as well try courageously to enact such policies. For now, the GOP’s strategy of surrender generates laughter on the left and tears on the right.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, a Fox News contributor and a media fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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