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Coming loose from their moorings


Congress was awfully busy this year. As lawmakers raced out the door for their holiday breaks, they approved a $400 billion Medicare bill and nearly passed a $23.5 billion energy bill.

The bills, both pushed by Republicans, are some of the biggest expansions of federal spending in recent history. The Medicare bill creates a huge, new entitlement, and the energy bill, far from solving our real problems, contains a buffet of goodies for energy companies.

Add these two bills to the massive tax cuts and a $6 trillion debt (growing nearly $400 billion this year alone), and after asking yourself, "What the hell are they thinking?" you're left to wonder, "What happened to the Republican Party?"

The party of limited government has become, in the 108th Congress at least, the party of new entitlements and record-setting federal deficits. Did I miss something, or is this not the Republican Party of old?

No, nothing was missed.

The times, they are a changin'.

These actions prompted Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to write about his party in a Nov. 26 Omaha World-Herald opinion editorial. "We have come loose from our moorings," Hagel wrote. "If we don't get some control over this out-of-control spending and policy-for-the-moment decision-making, we will put America on a course that we may not be able to recover from."

Wow. This is coming from a Republican -- a conservative one. Another conservative Republican, Hoosier Congressman Mike Pence (who I never thought I would agree with on any subject) claimed, according to the Washington Post, "The party of Ronald Reagan, the party that came to Washington to change the welfare state, could fall into that 75-year parade of entitlement makers."

The party, indeed, is coming loose from its moorings. But, why is the party changing, and how did it happen? George W. Bush ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism," and Newt Gingrich, et al., were all about fiscal conservatism when they took over Congress in 1994.

But, after they won, they got greedy. They also got shortsighted. The last year of Congress was a grand attempt by Republicans to provide everything to everyone at no cost to anyone. They cut taxes for the rich (and, for good measure, a little for the middle class) and increased government programs. I'm guessing they plan on telling people about the huge deficits later.

See, it turns out that "fiscal conservatism" only means lower taxes. Apparently, spending more is part of the equation, too. Who knew?

Voters didn't. In fact, voters are the real losers in this huge transformation. They elected the Republicans to be responsible with money. Now, come to find out, it's the Democrats who know how to manage a checkbook.

It's important to note that government entitlements aren't necessarily bad. In fact, entitlements are an important part of our society -- they signal our commitment, as a nation, to help the least fortunate among us. But the Republican Party has always stood for a reduction in such entitlements along with a reduction in taxes. It was a principled stand.

As Hagel also said, "Republicans used to believe in balanced budgets. Republicans used to believe in fiscal responsibility, limited international entanglements and limited government. We have lost our way."

The party Sen. Hagel knew was absent from Congress this year. Democrats are now in the party of fiscal responsibility and living within our means. Sorry, Sen. Hagel, your party of fiscal conservatism is, it seems, no more.

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