Gretchen Hamel: Hold both parties responsible for federal spending

September 7, 2011

This OpEd by Gretchen Hamel as  seen in The Holland Sentinel.

Washington D.C. — If you’re still not over the 2010 election, it may be hard to believe the next presidential race is already in gear. In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen President Obama embark on a bus tour to promote his economic policies, and Republicans sparring it out in the Iowa Straw Poll. The next benchmark is Wednesday, when the GOP hopefuls debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California.
When these candidates take the stage, two questions should dominate: First, how do you plan to get the economy moving again? And second, what are you going to do to get federal spending under control?These are related questions, because the nation’s debt and deficit spending are feeding into a climate of serious uncertainty about the economy. And the sad fact is that our political class has let us down when it comes to managing both the economy and the federal budget. Our gargantuan national debt and runaway deficit spending stand as monuments to the fecklessness of our nation’s leadership.

The good news is that things may be changing, as both Democrats and Republicans have begun talking up the merits of getting the budget under control, in the aftermath of the impasse over raising the debt ceiling that almost led our nation into default.

Though it’s early in the campaign, a consistent theme has emerged as all the candidates emphasize the need for fiscal responsibility and reining in the growth of the federal government. Based on the tone the candidates are striking when speaking of the national debt and the deficit, you might be encouraged. “At last!” you might think. “The Republicans get it!”

But not so fast — let’s not let them off the hook quite so easily. While Republican candidates might sound the right notes in their talk about cutting spending, we need to consider the facts of how elected Republicans have managed the federal budget in recent years.

And the facts aren’t pretty:

During President George W. Bush’s eight-year tenure, the GOP controlled the U.S. House or six years, and the Senate for 4 1/2 years. During that time, deficit spending exploded, and the national debt increased by $4.9 trillion.

Republicans were behind several big-ticket spending items that blew a hole in the federal budget, like the Medicare prescription drug benefit passed in 2003. Republicans also supported the bailout of banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 .

While Republicans have been aggressive in challenging President Obama and congressional Democrats on earmarks and discretionary spending, they’ve been slow to tackle cuts to defense spending and Social Security, which are drivers behind federal spending, and all of which are in desperate need of reform.

Simply put, both parties have a lot to answer for when it comes to our nation’s current budget troubles. And GOP primary voters, 80 percent of whom say they “worry ‘a great deal’ about federal spending” according to a recent Gallup poll, should keep that in mind as presidential candidates talk up their commitment to fiscal responsibility. Taxpayers need to make sure they hold to that commitment if they should get elected.

When the Republican presidential hopefuls debate Wednesday, pay close attention to their answers about how they intend to tackle federal spending, reduce the national debt and get the economy moving again. We intend to hold all officeholders — Democrats and Republicans —  accountable when it comes to getting the nation’s fiscal house in order. Candidates from every party, whatever office they’re running for, should get that message.

— Gretchen Hamel is executive director of Public Notice, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.


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