"Money can't buy me love," the Beatles famously sang. That should be the lesson conservatives take from the Nov. 7 elections, because the real story of this year's midterm vote is that the supposedly conservative majority spent as if it was a liberal majority.
"The greatest scandal in Washington, D.C., is runaway federal spending," Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said after the election. In recent years, he notes, the Republican majority "voted to expand the federal government's role in education, [added new] entitlements and pursued spending policies that created deficits and national debt." Consider the ways the outgoing Congress attempted to buy our votes.
Federal spending in fiscal year 2006 increased by 9 percent, the largest increase since 1990. Discretionary federal spending has increased year after year, up more than 40 percent since President Bush took office.
In September, the Senate passed three big "emergency" spending measures, including a giveaway to American farmers. This is a trend. And 2007 will mark the fourth straight year that lawmakers passed "emergency" farm subsidies. But as voters wisely realized, if everything's an emergency, nothing is. Ask Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana. His last-minute attempt to buy support fell short, and he lost his seat.
Federal lawmakers have found other ways to insert themselves into what should be local issues. Since Bush took office, lawmakers have larded spending bills with more than 35,000 earmarks, including such wasteful measures as $223 million for the Bridge to Nowhere and $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Iowa.
Earmarking is nothing more than an attempt by members of Congress to show folks that they're "bringing home the bacon." Conservatives should focus on the lesson of this election: This sort of federal spending is wrong. It doesn't work, and it should be stopped.
The other side of the spending coin is entitlements. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are on a path to bankrupt our country. Medicare spending alone is projected to leap $112 billion over the next two years to nearly half a trillion dollars. There's a crisis looming.
Yet instead of addressing these problems, in 2003 our lawmakers made them worse. They passed the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, adding trillions of dollars in costs to an already flailing program. It was the largest entitlement program passed since the Great Society of the 1960s, and many saw it as nothing more than an attempt by lawmakers to buy senior citizens' votes by giving them "inexpensive" drugs (to be paid for by their children and grandchildren's taxes).
The buy-off failed. Its author, Nancy Johnson, was ousted in Connecticut, while key supporter Clay Shaw lost his Florida seat after his opponent made the costly benefit a campaign issue.
That's in part because of the "doughnut hole." Recipients recently learned that while Medicare covers most of their first $2,250 in drug spending, coverage drops after that to zero until the patient reaches $5,100 in spending. That's almost $3,000 that recipients are on the hook for. It's time to scrap this big-government program and craft something that will actually work.
The American people certainly voted for change, and that change should be to walk the conservative walk, especially on budgetary matters.
After all, today's strong economy comes directly from conservative tax policies. We can lock in and build on that growth if we keep those policies and couple them with conservative spending policies.
For years conservatives have urged Bush to veto frivolous spending bills. Now maybe he finally will. And if all the Democrats who were elected as conservatives are true to their campaign rhetoric, there should be fewer such bills for him to veto.
The lesson that politicians should learn from this election is that they can't buy our support with more spending. Instead, they should focus on creating a government that is smaller -- and more responsible with our money.
First appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times