Tag: fiscal conservatives

Fiscal and Social Conservatives

Recently I criticized Sen. Jim DeMint for saying, “It’s impossible to be a fiscal conservative unless you’re a social conservative,” and I noted that former governor Mike Huckabee had made similar points. Yesterday on “Fox News Sunday” Huckabee said, “all social conservatives I know are also fiscal conservatives. Not necessarily the other way around.”

Well, I can tell you one social conservative who isn’t a fiscal conservative – former governor Mike Huckabee. Here’s what Cato’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors” reported in 2006, at the end of Huckabee’s tenure as governor of Arkansas:

Final-Term Grade, F; Final Overall Grade, D

Thanks to a final term grade of F, Huckabee earns an overall grade of D for his entire governorship. Like many Republicans, his grades dropped the longer he stayed in office. In his first few years, he fought hard for a sweeping $70 million tax cut package that was the first broad-based tax cut in the state in more than 20 years. He even signed a bill to cut the state’s 6 percent capital gains tax—a significant pro-growth accomplishment. But nine days after being reelected in 2002, he proposed a sales tax increase to cover a budget deficit caused partly by large spending increases that he proposed and approved, including an expansion in Medicare eligibility that Huckabee made a centerpiece of his 1997 agenda. He agreed to a 3 percent income tax “surcharge” and a 25-cent cigarette tax increase. In response to a court order to increase spending on education, Huckabee proposed another sales tax increase. Huckabee wants to run for the GOP presidential nomination next year. He’s already been hailed as a viable big-government conservative candidate by some. That seems about right: Huckabee’s leadership has left taxpayers in Arkansas much worse off.

George W. McDonnell

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell must be a Bush Republican. The Washington Post reports today:

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell plans a massive spending campaign that he said would unclog state roads, award thousands more college degrees and spur job creation, part of an aggressive legislative agenda he is expected to roll out this week.

McDonnell (R) will press lawmakers to approve a series of statewide projects he said would be paid in part through Virginia’s $403 million budget surplus, $337 million in higher-than-expected tax revenue, and $192 million generated through cuts and savings….

He plans to borrow nearly $3 billion over the next three years.

That doesn’t sound like the agenda of a Reagan Republican or a Tea Party Republican. It sounds a lot like the program of George W. Bush, the biggest-spending president between LBJ and, well, the president who followed Bush.

Of course, McDonnell might also be called a George Allen Republican. Allen, who served as governor of Virginia from 1994 through 1997, has a reputation as a staunch conservative. But he earned a grade of 40 on the Cato Institute’s Fiscal Policy Report Card. McDonnell seems to be headed for a similar grade.

British Military Cuts, Conservatives, and Neocons

Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Britain’s biggest defense cuts since World War II. The cuts affect the British military across the board.

The Army will shed 7,000 troops; the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will each lose 5,000 personnel; the total workforce in the Ministry of Defence, including civilians, will contract by 42,000. The Navy’s destroyer fleet will shrink from 23 to 19. Two aircraft carriers – already under construction – will be completed, but one of the two will be either mothballed or sold within a few years. Whether the one remaining flattop in the British fleet will actually deploy with an operational fixed-wing aircraft is an open question. They’ve decided to jettison their Harriers; a technological marvel when it was first introduced, it has a limited range and a poor safety record. In its place, the Brits still intend to purchase Joint Strike Fighters, but not the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version.

And right on cue, Max Boot argues in today’s Wall Street Journal, following the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano’s example, that fiscal conservatives should not use these cuts as an example of how to reign in deficits. According to Boot and Carafano, military spending is off-limits. Period.

But as I note at The Skeptics, most Americans do not buy into this argument:

In Boot’s telling, Cameron’s decision inevitably places a heavier burden on the shoulders of American taxpayers and American troops.

But why should Americans perform a function for other governments that they are obligated by tradition, law and reason to perform for themselves? Defense is, as Boot notes, “one of the core responsibilities of government.” I would go one better: defense is one of the only legitimate responsibilities for government. So why does Max Boot think that Americans should simply resign themselves to take on this burden, doing for others what they should do for themselves?

I suspect that he fears that most Americans are not comfortable with the role that he and his neoconservative allies have preached for nearly two decades, hence his preemptive shot across the bow of the incoming congressional class that will have been elected on a platform of reducing the burden of government. True, the public is easily swayed, and not inclined to vote on foreign policy matters, in general, but as I noted here on Monday, it seems unlikely that the same Tea Partiers who want the U.S. government to do less in the United States are anxious to do more everywhere else. And, indeed, such sentiments are not confined to conservatives and constitutionalists who are keenly aware of government’s inherent limitations. Recent surveys by the Chicago Council of on Global Affairs (.pdf) and the Pew Research Center (here) definitively demonstrate that the public writ large is anxious to shed the role of global policeman.

Click here to read the entire post.

Born-Again Budget Hawks (D-BS)

“Now on Democrats’ agenda: Budget cuts,” proclaims a front-page headline in Saturday’s Washington Post. The online headline reads, “Democrats add fiscal austerity as a campaign issue.”

Good news, huh? Let’s check it out:

The candidate was outraged – just outraged – at the country’s sorry fiscal state.

“We have managed to acquire $13 trillion of debt on our balance sheet,” he fumed to a roomful of voters. “In my view, we have nothing to show for it.”

And that was a Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who voted “yes” on the stimulus, the health-care overhaul, increased education funding and other costly bills Congress approved under his party’s control.

Meanwhile,

Paul Hodes, the Democratic Senate candidate in New Hampshire, recently proposed $3 billion in spending cuts that would slice airport, railroad and housing funds. Elected to the House four years ago as an anti-war progressive, Hodes lamented that “for too long, both parties have willfully spent with no regard for our nation’s debt.”

So Senator Bennet is outraged at the national debt – for which we have “nothing to show” – but he has voted, apparently, for every one of the spending bills in his time in the Senate that have created today’s $13 trillion debt. The National Taxpayers Union says his overall voting record on spending bills rates an F.

And Representative Hodes is calling for a $3 billion spending cut. Sounds big, eh? Front-page news indeed. But of course, it’s less than 0.1 percent of the 2011 federal budget – and that’s assuming that all these cuts would come out of this year’s budget. Hodes’s press release doesn’t make that clear; they might be cuts over 5 years or so. And his very next press release said he was fighting for federal funds for local New Hampshire services.

Both Republicans and Democrats want voters to think that they’re getting tough on spending, deficits, and debts. But their statements are at wide variance with their actual records and actions. We didn’t pile up $13 trillion in debt while no one was looking; members of Congress, of both parties, voted for these bills. Voters need to watch what they do, not what they say.

My colleague Chris Edwards, quoted by reporter Shailagh Murray, is a little more polite:

“The problem from a fiscal conservative voter’s point of view is that every member or wannabe member claims to be a fiscal conservative these days, so it’s more difficult than usual to separate the wheat from the chaff,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank.

Born-Again Budget Hawks (R-BS)

“Three top Republican House members have written a book that repeatedly criticizes former GOP leaders as well as President Obama,” reports the Washington Post. “In ‘Young Guns,’ scheduled for release Sept. 14, Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) cast the Republican congressional leaders who preceded them as a group that “betrayed its principles” and was plagued by ‘failures from high-profile ethics lapses to the inability to rein in spending or even slow the growth of government.’”

Good point! And one we’ve made several times at Cato.

But how credible are the messengers? Once you ruin a brand, it can take a long time to restore it. And part of the solution is owning up to your own errors, not just pointing the fingers.

In this case, I’m sorry to discover that Reps. Cantor and Ryan both voted for the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, expanding federal control over education. They both voted for the costly Iraq war in 2002. They both voted for the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003, which was projected to add more than $700 billion to Medicare costs over the following decade. They both voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which included the $700 billion TARP bailout. (Rep. McCarthy, who joined the House in 2007, voted against TARP.)

To be fair, all three of the authors get A’s and B’s in the annual ratings of Congress by the National Taxpayers Union, which means they have better records on spending than most of their colleagues. But I’ll be curious to see if the book admits that any of the near-trillion-dollar votes discussed above were mistakes – not just by the departed Bush, Hastert, and DeLay but by many Republican members of Congress.

Pawlenty

I am very fearful that the Republicans will nominate another Bush-style candidate for 2012. With the government running trillion-dollar deficits, the country needs a hard-line budget-cutter as the next president.

Politico reports: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been quietly assembling the blueprint of a presidential campaign and will announce Thursday the support of a group of high-level political strategists and donors, complemented by a handful of top new media consultants.”

I gave Pawlenty a “B” in my fiscal report card on the governors last year. Here’s what I said about him:

Tim Pawlenty pledged not to raise taxes when he ran for governor, but his tax record in office is more mixed than that. He backed a $200 million tax increase on cigarette consumers in 2005 and a $109 million corporate tax increase in 2008. He has also supported substantial increases in fees and charges. Pawlenty has provided some targeted tax relief and imposed temporary limits on local property tax increases, but he has not focused on pro-growth tax rate reductions. Nonetheless, Pawlenty’s veto record is impressive, including rejecting a gasoline tax increase, a hike in the top personal income tax rate, and various bloated spending bills. Pawlenty has delivered fairly restrained budgets over the years and kept spending growth to modest increases.

This year, Pawlenty has proposed spending restraint and he has vetoed tax increases. He has also called for cutting the state corporate income tax rate. Still, I’m uneasy about him, so I sure hope the party’s fiscal conservatives thoroughly vet the fellow before he advances too far.