It’s painful to see newly-minted House Speaker Paul Ryan’s imprint on the irresponsible trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill, because he used to be one of the GOP’s most effective spokesmen for fiscal responsibility.
He took a beating for his principled dedication to reduce government spending. When Democrats went through one of their ridiculous transformations into a party of shrieking deficit-hawks whenever they wanted to raise the nation’s credit-card limit, they howled that Ryan’s budget proposals would cut spending without increasing taxes enough to significantly reduce the national debt.
Back then, Ryan was great. “The facts are clear: Since President Obama took office, our problems have gotten worse,” Ryan wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed to support the Republicans’ “Path to Prosperity” budget in 2011, which was supposed to cut domestic spending to pre-2008 levels. “Major spending increases have failed to deliver promised jobs. The safety net for the poor is coming apart at the seams. Government health and retirement programs are growing at unsustainable rates. The new health-care law is a fiscal train wreck. And a complex, inefficient tax code is holding back American families and businesses.”
In the old days, Ryan and his House Budget Committee produced an excellent video to explain why fiscal discipline is necessary and urgent. Try to reconcile the man in this 2011 video with the Speaker who just dumped that embarrassing $1.1 trillion omnibus spending blowout on America, with money for every Democrat priority, except for the taxpayer bailout of ObamaCare:
“We’ll never get our debt under control unless we tackle its main drivers: too little economic growth and too much spending,” Ryan said when he voted for the “fiscal cliff” deal in 2013.
“Without presidential leadership, it will be difficult to forge bipartisan solutions to our debt and economic challenges,” Ryan continued, explaining why the fiscal cliff deal was the GOP’s best bet to head off tax increases.
“The American people chose divided government. As elected officials, we have a duty to apply our principles to the realities of governing. And we must exercise prudence. We must weigh the benefits and the costs of action – and of inaction,” he said, declaring that he came to Congress “to make tough decisions – not to run away from them.”
With the fiscal-cliff drama out of the way, he said it was time to “return our attention to the real problem: out-of-control spending.”
“Washington’s reckless spending drives the debt. And this debt is hurting the economy today,” Ryan asserted. “Unless we get at the heart of the problem, Americans will face a debt crisis—one that will threaten our most vulnerable in particular. It is our responsibility to prevent such a crisis.”
When Ryan voted against an unconditional debt-ceiling increase without spending cuts in 2014, he called that deal a “missed opportunity,” and said he was “disappointed that the President and Senate Democrats refuse to get serious about our fiscal challenges.”
Ryan’s 2014 budget proposal, which would have cut $5 trillion in spending over the next decade to balance the budget at long last, was described by the New York Times as a glimpse at “what his party could do with complete control of Congress.” Ryan held firm to his belief that cuts to madcap government spending would help the economy flourish over the coming decade, creating enough increased wealth to boost government revenue without tax rate increases. Democrats bombarded their constituents with propaganda claiming Ryan and his tightwad caucus were coming to take the food out of their mouths.
The Democrat campaign failed in absolutely spectacular fashion, and Paul Ryan’s party did indeed get full control of Congress in a midterm election triumph foreseen by few on either side of the partisan divide.
As a reward, Republican voters got… $1.1 trillion in Democrat-themed spending, tendered without a fight.
That’s because the Republican leadership is convinced Democrats win all fiscal-showdowns, so it’s better to capitulate quickly and keep the issue from dominating the news… even though that’s clearly the opposite of what the American people want. To borrow Rep. Ryan’s own words, they gave Congress to Republicans because they wanted to see their representatives make tough choices – not run away from them.
Besides keeping those ObamaCare bailouts blocked for the time being – which constitutes holding on to a hard-won victory, not taking any new ground – Ryan sacrificed everything Republicans have been saying was important, every bit of insurance against Obama’s lame-duck rampage, to get nothing but relief on the crude-oil export ban.
That’s useful, but not a heartland issue Republicans can run proudly on, and the Democrats are giving little sense it was a painful trade-off for them.
Any credit the GOP gets for those little achievements will be more than offset by boosting H-2B visas – a straight-up, unambiguous program to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor – to such high levels that even left-wing labor advocates who normally favor open borders are looking queasy. (A major reason for their qualms about the H-2B program is that it’s very difficult for such guest workers to unionize.) How does this program square with Ryan’s past rhetoric about putting Americans back to work, and building long-term sustainable prosperity?
The omnibus bill is a disaster because it validates the suspicions grassroots voters hold about GOP leaders, and makes them feel foolish for working so hard to elect a Republican Congress in 2014. It also makes spending hawks like Ryan look insincere in their past pronouncements – he apparently doesn’t really have that much against wild government spending sprees – or, perhaps worse, it makes them look defeated. They’re throwing in the towel on a fight they swore they’d never abandon, because America’s fiscal course had to be corrected without delay. In 2009, they demanded President Obama veto a $410 billion omnibus bill because it was loaded with pork and earmarks; now they’re dropping over twice as much panicky last-minute spending in his Christmas stocking.
Frankly, the “fiscally-responsible” Republican leadership looks about as sincere as global-warming alarmists blowing thousands of tons of carbon into the air so they can attend a glitzy climate-change conference, before returning home to the expensive waterfront property they supposedly believe will be wiped out by melting polar ice any day now.
Worst of all, Ryan was right the first time – we are running out of time to change course.
Every dollar spent by the government is a seed, from which further spending and dependency will grow. Lavish funding gives bureaucrats plenty of resources for “mission creep” and turf-building. The more money they get, the worse they become at their core responsibilities, which tend to be of little use for expanding bureaucratic empires. Government money is used to hire people who become hostages against future fiscal restraint – how dare you propose cutting the budget, and putting all these good people out of work! A public convinced the business of shearing taxpayers to knit sweaters for cronies and dependents will go on forever soon begins thinking about how to get theirs, rather than patrolling the boundaries of liberty against government incursions. The sense that public money should never be spent on certain pursuits evaporates. As big spending becomes more accepted, it grows easier for the big spenders to portray tax cuts, or any other reduction of government power, as irresponsible and unthinkable.
The voters who understand all those perils are increasingly interested in outsider candidates who might really shake up the status quo. Why should those many people who feel they have no representation in Washington actually care about candidates offered up by a Party establishment that represents only itself? The GOP’s continued failures — and now Ryan’s giveaway — are setting the stage for an outsider to trump all the insiders.