Republicans have long advocated the need to get government spending under control, eliminate fraud and waste and make tough decisions to secure America’s financial future. We’ve heard it all before. Naturally, this year’s crop of 2016 GOP presidential candidates are no exception. I don’t mean to suggest they are insincere, but they all have some version of this lament as part of their pitch: Our country’s skyrocketing debt is mortgaging our children’s future, we are borrowing money from foreign governments to pay for government programs, etc. We have all heard the standard lines.
But when it comes time to do more than talk, almost everyone caves. Why? Because advocating real policies that would have an impact on the debt is all downside and no upside. So far, the ballooning debt hasn’t produced runaway inflation, and the amount of debt – over $18 trillion – is too abstract for just about anyone to comprehend. Plus, the average American doesn’t notice how the debt and the government’s budget irresponsibility impacts their everyday life. In fact, it’s just the opposite – more people are likely to think that they are getting too little from the government, no matter what the government actually spends. So the net effect on our politics is the status quo; more spending and debt at this fast pace or an even faster pace.
So why don’t Republicans do more to try and fight the accumulation of debt and the rapid increase in the growth of government spending? The fact is, many Republicans question why they should engage in the futile exercise of pushing for a fiscally responsible approach, which would effectively mean telling someone they will get less money someday. Or, put another way, any GOP candidate who really gets specific about how to slow the rate of debt creation is just supplying attack lines for Democrats to use against them in effective campaign ads.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a 2016 contender, has been making noise about doing things differently in his campaign for president. On a conference call earlier this week, he indicated that he wants to be the candidate to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire on fiscal issues, particularly related to “overhauling Medicare, Social Security and other long-term entitlement programs…and run[ning] a campaign focused on the nation’s fiscal health and recommending sweeping structural reforms.”
Wow. Even if it is a futile effort, the party and the country would be in his debt if he really follows through. Other campaigns may think that’s unfair because they also plan on talking about how serious our nation’s debt is, but talking about the severity of the problem and sticking your neck out with quantifiable solutions to fix the problem are two different things. When it comes to the federal budget, everything easy to do has already been done. If a 2016 candidate says their solution is anything like, “tackling our deficits by cutting out Washington’s waste, fraud and abuse,” they should be expelled from the party.
Will Gov. Christie get any traction with real budget reform as his central campaign pitch? He made his name in politics as a no-BS straight-talker who is brutally blunt. It is easy to say that tough decisions have to be made, but it’s hard to court voters who all think the other guy is getting too much while their piece of the pie is not big enough. Maybe Christie can break through and make all the other candidates a little more honest.