Does GOP Get It? It's Spending, Stupid

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted on both a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution and permanent repeal of the estate tax.

Both proposals were defeated, as expected.

The fact that the bills were brought to the floor when the Senate Republican leadership knew there was no chance of passage is unusual. Generally, the leadership won’t do that unless it knows it has the votes to pass it.

So why do it? Republicans were trying to reach out to their base of conservative voters: the marriage amendment for the social conservatives and the estate tax elimination for the economic conservatives.

Senate Democrats spent most of their time denouncing the move, saying there were much more important issues facing the country. There is some truth in that claim.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Some 19 states now have constitutional amendments protecting ‘traditional’ marriage; another 26 have statutes doing the same. Alabama voters yesterday [June 6] endorsed such an amendment, and six more states will have the question on November ballots.” In other words, the states are addressing the marriage issue.

As for the estate tax, its rate will decline every year, until it reaches zero in 2010 — albeit to return to 55% after that. IPI has long opposed the “death tax,” but the country has four years before we have to deal with it.

The point is that while both of these issues are important, they aren’t pressing. Nor are they why the conservative base is so upset with Republicans.

The real issue is Republicans’ unwillingness to control federal spending, and especially the earmarks process. And the administration’s unwillingness to force fiscal responsibility on Congress.

Just consider:

  • A Newsweek Poll (May 11-12) asked whether those surveyed approved or disapproved of the way President Bush was handling the federal budget deficit: 19% approved, while 70% disapproved.
  • A USA Today/Gallop Poll (April 28-30) asked whether Congress should significantly restrict earmarks, require full disclosure of them, or leave things unchanged: 41% wanted restrictions and 41% wanted full disclosure.

If Republicans are looking for the reason for their growing unpopularity, failure to control federal spending is the primary answer. And if they want to regain their base’s support, they must return to their roots and take steps to prove they are the party of fiscal restraint — now.