Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is fond of saying, “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.” By his standard, conservatives have been kicked by that mule way too often.
We were reminded of that last week, when Congress passed its bloated omnibus spending bill - and were shown yet again that a GOP majority in both chambers of Congress is no guarantee that conservative policies will triumph. The spending bill that emerged from Congress bears little resemblance to anything conservatives had hoped to see.
With both the substance of the bill and the process of getting it passed, Republicans betrayed two key campaign promises they made to the American people: the first, for lower spending levels, and the second, for a more open and transparent legislative processes. Both promises were jettisoned with the spending bill.
On the campaign trail, Republican candidates have long touted their “commitment” to “fiscal responsibility,” but there was little evidence of any GOP concerns about the national debt in the $1.3 trillion spending bill. The spending package includes a whopping 13 percent increase in discretionary spending, and funds many of the Democrats’ priorities. For this, we needed a GOP majority in Congress?
Equally disheartening as what is in the spending monstrosity is how the bill was passed. Back in 2010, then-Republican leadership including House Minority Leader John Boehner and then-senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan, promised that the GOP, once in the majority, would post every bill online for at least 72 hours before voting on it. Americans want to know what is in bills - especially massive, debt-increasing bills - before Congress votes on them. Even more than that, though, Americans want to know that their elected officials are reading bills before voting on them.
This spending bill, an unwieldy 2,232 pages of text, was made available for members of Congress to read late last Wednesday - a mere 17 hours before the vote started in the House. Does anyone actually believe the members of Congress who voted in favor of this spending bill had any real knowledge of what was included?
Americans are, understandably, outraged. A survey of editorial pages of newspapers across the country shows an abundance of words such as “embarrassment” and “failure” and “disappointment.” That’s putting it mildly. My inbox over the past few days has been inundated with emails from frustrated activists. While I share the overwhelming feelings of disappointment, I have offered a few words of hope that I think conservatives everywhere would benefit from hearing.
First, in the midst of this spending fiasco, we cannot lose sight of two big victories. For six weeks, Tea Party Patriots sent out calls to action, asking our supporters to call Congress to make sure the spending bill would not include either a DACA amnesty program or an insurance bailout program to prop up ObamaCare. Guess what? Conservatives won both of those fights.
Beyond those two wins, however, there is another reason conservatives should take heart. When it comes to challenging the status quo, the tea party movement has found a way to be truly disruptive in Washington.
The House Freedom Caucus, the legislative embodiment of the tea party, showed leadership in its opposition to the spending bill. North Carolina conservative Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, put out a statement about the bill: “This is wrong. This is not the limited-government conservatism our voters demand. Our constituents - our employers - deserve better.”
Mr. Meadows’ statement illustrates two key truths about the tea party movement, and also hints at the path forward for conservatives.
The first truth is that tea party members of Congress are remarkably consistent on the campaign trail and in Congress. While most politicians exhibit something close to split personalities between their stated positions on the campaign trails and their public office actions once they reach the nation’s capital, tea party members of Congress have proven to be an anomaly on that front. I suspect the reason tea party candidates are so strong in Congress is partially due to the tea party model of holding elected officials accountable.
The second truth is that tea party members of Congress are better at listening to their constituents. Notice that Mr. Meadows makes clear that the spending bill is wrong because it is a violation of what we, the people, want. This mindset reflects the core of our representative democracy - and the essence of what the tea party movement has advanced over the last several years.
The spending bill is a reminder that profligate spending is an entrenched feature of the D.C. swamp - regardless of which political party is in charge. The House Freedom Caucus’ willingness to buck the Republican leadership and stand up for conservative principles proves that it is possible to reverse the out-of-control federal spending.
Heading into November, conservatives have a blueprint for changing the culture in Washington.
Simply put, we need more Mark Meadows-type tea party leaders in Congress.
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