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The difficulty in cutting spending isn’t just laid on Democrats, who specialize in handing out money, but also felt by Republicans. No national political entity has tried to cut spending since the Republican takeover of the House in 1995. After going to battle with the Clinton administration, the government was briefly shutdown, an event that was portrayed as a type of Armageddon by the Washington press, but had no measurable impact outside of saving money. Spun wonderfully by an administration wise to the ways of public relations, the House Republicans took a beating in the polls.
It isn’t hard to see this situation reflective on the political strategies of George W. Bush, whose “compassionate conservatism” meme spelled out for everyone to read – I’m not cutting anything. Twenty years before, the Department of Education was the bane of the conservative existence. Bush made it larger. He also created a new Medicare entitlement. It doesn’t make for good conservative politics, but it does make for political expediency. These circumstances have created a situation in which a desperate economy will continuously be dragged into stagnation by the public-sector monster. Feeding the monster during good times, such as the post-war years or the mid 1990s, is of no consequence to the future. Growing the monster is good politics in the present, but bad for future fiscal stability.
Success in fighting back an ever-growing government and repairing the fiscal damage starts in the fall. Republicans can take over the House and do damage to the filibuster-proof Senate. But moving beyond victory, if it happens, and getting back to good economic health will take more than the usual shortness of fortitude displayed by the modern politician.
Republicans will be reduced to inhuman terms with any attempted spending cut. It will play out live on the news networks and the major newspapers. This will be the same battle fought in the mid-90s, only this time, the dominant press narrative will go against a cable leviathan in Fox News, a talk-radio media that has grown exponentially since then and a vibrant and virile conservative internet media.
It also means being heard by the public through the chants and jeers of public sector unions, interest groups and anyone else with a stake to lose. Reaction may not sink to the level of Greece, where a bank was fire-bombed during a union protest, but it will get bad. It should also be interesting to see if these new protests are handled in the same manner by our leaders and press as the Tea Party.
The battle will be an important one, with stakes riding into the 2012 presidential election. Even more important, it will decide whether the American public will accept a Congress that cuts them off the trough. Here’s hoping they do.
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