The passage of the omnibus spending bill again showed how unwilling the Republican majority is to hold the line on, much less cut, government spending. This has predictably depressed activists and members of Congress who are committed to that goal. So far, however, they seem to be at a loss about what to do to reverse the tide. Here’s one radical idea that could work: Small-government congressmen and activists should consciously think of themselves as if they were a separate political party.
Their political strategy for over a decade has been built around the faulty assumption that the Republican party already is the small-government party. Spending-cut advocates believe that most Republican voters prioritize spending cuts as much as they do. Failure to enact cuts, in this view, is due entirely to a feckless and cowardly leadership. Elect enough members to change the leadership, the thinking goes, and the spending cuts will flow like water rushing through a broken dam.
The truth is much different. As the 2016 presidential primaries showed, while the clear majority of Republican voters might wish for spending restraint, they prioritize other preferences. Restricting immigration, cutting taxes, fighting terrorism, and protecting religious liberty rank far higher on GOP priority lists than does cutting or limiting spending. Both the president and the congressional leadership know this and sensibly expend their political capital on those items. Fiscal conservatives get pushed to the curb under that scenario because they represent only a small portion of the total GOP alliance.