With the Republican Party now in the majority in the lower house of Congress, for the next two years, the party must stop boasting and prove that it can govern again.
Republicans have offered some clues of what they will do with their halfhearted Pledge to America. But other than promising to rein in spending somehow for the past two years in opposition, the party has largely refrained from suggesting concrete measures to reduce the deficit. Several prominent Republican legislators, some newly elected, appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows this week to discuss their prospects of political leadership in America for the next two years.
Quite probably the most libertarian of Tea Party candidates, Rand Paul of Kentucky, said on ABC’s This Week that the single largest concern of Republicans today should be the national debt. “I think we’ve been fiscally irresponsible for a generation or more here,” he said. “Republicans doubled the debt when we were in charge, and then Democrats are tripling the debt.”
David Stockman, who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, agreed, saying later on the same program that both major parties in the United States have become “free lunch parties; the Republicans cutting taxes every time they had a chance, never doing anything about spending, and the Democrats digging in to defend everything that was there.”
Other than expressing his support for a balanced budget amendment and urging fellow Republicans not to block defense cuts on forehand, Rand volunteered few specifics on how to rein in spending however. “We don’t need bigger government,” he professed. “We need to shrink the size of government.” But he balked at the prospect of privatizing Social Security as Congressman Paul Ryan, who is set to take over the leadership of the budget committee in the House, has suggested.
Ryan, who has consistently championed free-market principle as a congressman, said on Fox News Sunday that “the big problem” with entitlement, “about 85 percent of it, is health care.” Nevertheless, he doesn’t expect “a grand bargain” on entitlement reform because the majority isn’t there. Both Rand Paul and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said to favor an attempt to repeal Obamacare. According to McConnell, Republicans “owe it to the American people” to try. “This was a terrible bill,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation. But without the votes necessary to override a presidential veto, it seems unlikely that Republicans will accomplish outright repeal — at least in the next two years.
Paul hopes to be on the budget committee in the Senate to have a thorough review of spending “across the board” and introduce a balanced budget early next year. “You need to ask of every program, when we take no program off the table, can it be downsized? Can it be privatized? Can it be made smaller?”
Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, who is expected to become Majority Leader as John Boehner assumes the speakership of the House, wouldn’t mention specific spending cuts on Fox News Sunday either. He did promise to “make some tough decisions” and warned that, “If we don’t change direction in this country, we’ll not see the kind of opportunities that most Americans have had in their lives.” He urged President Barack Obama to consider that the country needs to adopt “a common sense agenda which starts with limiting government, cutting spending, so we can get jobs created again.”
Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate for 2012, said on This Week that “for Americans under the age of 40, we’ve got to put everything on the table in the area of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We have got to reform these entitlement programs,” he stressed. “They are threatening the fiscal vitality of future generations of Americans.”
Pence has defended small government policies and spoken out against tax hikes repeatedly in the run-up to this month’s congressional elections. He believes that Republicans lost heavily in 2006 and 2008, not because they compromised too little rather because they compromised too much “on key principles.”
Republicans have advocated earmark reform in the opposition for the past two years, citing pork-barrel spending as a major factor in the staggering increase of the national debt. Rand Paul was very explicit on the issue on This Week, saying, “No — no more earmarks,” even if they might benefit his home state. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who won reelection by a landslide last week, was similarly adamant, saying, “We’re not going to have earmarks,” even criticizing his party’s leadership for opposing a ban.
DeMint also said to oppose raising the debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion which may be necessary unless the administration manages to rein in spending, fast. “We cannot allow that to go through the Congress without showing the American people that we are going to balance the budget,” he said. Paul pledged to vote against raising the debt ceiling as well, if only to “send a message that adding more debt is wrong.” DeMint seemed to rule out Social Security reform though. “We need to keep our promises to seniors,” he explained. Cutting their benefits is “not on the table,” he added, though this leaves reforming the system for people that haven’t already retired as an option.
On Fox News Sunday, Congressman Ryan harshly criticized the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to inject another $600 billion into the American economy. “We already have very loose monetary policy,” he said, along with exceptionally low interest rates. “This is going to give us an inflation problem in the future. It’s going to give us an interest rate problem in the future. It is destabilizing investment horizons.” David Stockman described the Fed as “mad men” on This Week, “who are out of control.” Its expansionary monetary policy is “going to end in a disaster,” he predicted.