Polling data on the issue of which party Americans trust to manage federal spending has turned upside down over the past several years. Republicans — viewed historically as more disciplined when it comes to fiscal responsibility — have now lost that advantage, according to many national surveys. In an Alice in Wonderland kind of reversal, more citizens now give the Democrats the edge on the question of stewardship over the federal treasury.
As the chart below suggests, Republicans held an advantage on spending discipline for many years, but that pattern reversed in 2003. And by 2006 and 2007, Democrats held a clear advantage on the issue.
As a longtime observer of Washington, I found this shift particularly odd. In all my years in Washington, rarely have I seen a debate where Democrats want to spend less than do Republicans. So why have the parties traded places on this issue?
One answer is obvious. Since September 11, Republicans have indeed opened up the spending spigots with alacrity. "We spent like drunken sailors" is a common refrain among many Republican lawmakers. It's repeated often in the halls of Congress and usually given as one of the reasons the Democrats won back the majority in 2006.
But there is a more subtle explanation, one that might cause the issue to swing back in the Republicans' favor over the next couple of years now that the Democrats hold the majority. Most voters didn't pay much attention to Democrats' spending proposals over the past several years. In the House and Senate, Democrats offered amendment after amendment increasing federal largess in budget and appropriations bills, routinely defeated by the Republicans. While in the minority, Democrats basked in the luxury of criticizing the Republicans, while never really being held accountable for their own spending initiatives — because none of them ever passed. In other words, they were shooting with legislative blanks. Democrats had big spending plans, but no ability to implement them. As a result, most voters heard criticism of Republicans, but never took Democrats' spending ideas seriously, because they never passed.
The problem is twofold. One, the GOP did an extremely poor job on mentioning how worst the democrat spending bill were. I knew them, but I'm not the guy that needs to be convinced about the worseness of the democrat spending. The other problem - and bigger problem - is that the GOP spending bills were so bad in the first place. Us fiscal conservatives have higher standards for the GOP. We expect the democrats to suck on spending. We don't expect the republicans to suck (even suck less) on spending. The GOP now has lost the trust of the people on spending and needs to get it back.
Mike Pence and the Republican Study Committee were some of the few during the last congress to push on this and they were rebuffed by the leadership that caused the GOP to lose the house and senate. They have to continue to lead, and the GOP will have to propose smart alternative legislation on issues to lead the way. There will need to be Lastly Bush needs to actually use his veto pen on spending measures for once in his life.
This will take time, leadership, and something other than the same old talking points from the NRSC/NRCC/RNC.