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October 21, 2013

Why Small Government Conservatives Don’t Want Any Deals

When MSM and GOP talking points collide.

We talked a little about this on the podcast but I think it’s worth discussing further.

One of the supposed criticisms of the Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and House conservative wing of the GOP, is they aren't all that interested in deal making or governing (as the term is understood in DC...increase government). I think it’s a fair point and one that speaks well of them.

The Republican wing of the GOP (Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senator Susan Collins, and Senator Bob Corker, etc) is interested not in “small government” but “smaller government”. “Smaller” than what? The answer to that is the key. Most often it’s not “smaller than we have now” it’s “smaller than the Democrats want it to be in the future but bigger than now”.

Look at Cantor’s “Making Life Work” initiative.

First, does an actual conservative think it’s the government’s job to help people to make their life work? Or that the government is equipped to do that even if it should? I’d argue no on both counts.

It’s all big government “compassionate conservatism” stuff.

Take the education proposal.

Rather than directing Title I and IDEA funding via formula to states and local school districts, current law should be amended to allow funds to follow the eligible child. Parents would have the option of using the funds to send their child to another public school, charter school, or private school.

Sounds reasonable...if you think the federal government should be in the business of elementary and secondary school education.

Of course, even if you have this kind of reform, which federalizes school policies, you’re going to have a massive bureaucracy to track where the money is going. Parents are going to wind having to report to the federal government how they used this money (or if the money goes right to the school not the parent, you going to have a huge bureaucracy at the local level to track this).

I’m sure there are plenty of other problems in implementing this as there always are. And history shows that no matter how well meaning a “conservative” policy is, at some point the liberals in the bureaucracy or a Democrat administration will come along and screw it up even more, all while adding tons of money to it.

A true “small” government conservative would say, “There’s no percentage in taking money from people only to give it back to them after the federal government takes a cut in managing fees and adds tons of regulations to it. Let the people keep their own money at home and make the closest and most responsible level of government handle it as the community sees fit. Get the know-it-alls in DC out of the mix.”

Once the assumption is made that the federal government can or should be involved in “Making life work for people”, it’s simply a bidding war with Democrats and the Democrats will always win those.

A small government conservative will look at Cantor’s list of things and say, “Getting the federal government involved in this stuff, no matter how well intentioned,, will make it harder for people to make their lives work”. “Smaller government” Republicans simply want to be their name on the program and be somewhat cheaper than the liberal’s plan.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul continues to produce budgets that, unlike the vaunted Ryan Plan, would actually shrink government and reduce its reach into the lives of Americans.

Mr. Paul, as well as GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah, joined Democrats Thursday in voting against the Ryan House budget — arguing that the plan did not go far enough in getting the nation’s fiscal house in order.

Mr. Paul’s plan abolishes the Departments of Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development and Commerce, and privatizes the Transportation Security Authority.
It converts federal spending on Medicaid and the state health insurance programs to block grants to the states, and raises the retirement age of Social Security by “adopting longevity indexing for future generations.”

It also indexes Social Security so the benefits for low-income workers would grow faster than those with higher incomes, and allows seniors to receive the same Medicare benefits as members of Congress.

Cantor's plan is far more pragmatic from a political point of view than Paul's revolutionary budget (the difference is night and day). Still, which is soemthing a conservative vs. a small government conservative should be embracing? Obviously Paul's plan is a political non-starter now but if you really care about shrinking government, not just slowing its growth, shouldn't you be working to make Paul's plan viable as opposed to continually compromising on how to grow government?

We simply have to admit that’s the distinction within the GOP (again, recognizing that the Cantor camp has the more pragmatic political argument).

While those of us in the "small government" camp don't have a practical leg to stand on we do have one thing going for us...we've been trying the "smaller than the Democrats' way for years and it's not working. If you think $17 TRILLION in debt (and that's just the stuff that's on the books) is ok, then keep on rearranging the deck chairs of the sinking ship. Or maybe we try a different way and see if we can convince people just how serious this stuff is.

That’s why compromise is so hard between the two camps. One side, the “small government” adherents, don’t want new ways to do the old things, they want the government to be doing fewer things period. The other side says, it's not possible to shrink government so we'll just manage it better and not make it as big as the Democrats want (at least at first).

It’s the old story of the guy who says, “I want to kill all of your kids”. A parent isn’t going to compromise and say, “well, how about just half of them and maybe wound one other?”. The natural position is going to be, “We’ll not be hurting any of my kids and I’m going to kill you for suggesting otherwise”. There won’t be an acceptable compromise here.

So when people tell you that the right is really one big happy family that wants the same thing and we only are fighting over tactics, they are lying. The “smaller than the Democrats” wing of the party wants to paper over these very real differences because they want to be able to count on conservative votes while they push government friendly programs.

Don’t let them get away with trying to blur the differences.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:26 AM

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