Mike Needham
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It’s been a long time since you could say this, but last week was a great week for conservatives in Washington.

On Tuesday, House Republican leaders decided not to pursue an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a $2.4 billion program that isn’t equital and doesn’t work.

Of all the Americans who lose their jobs, only about one percent of those who filed for unemployment benefits in 2010 received TAA. Why should these individuals get a better benefit than the other 99% of Americans filing for unemployment benefits?

Further, the idea of TAA – to provide retraining to workers who lose their jobs due to the creative destruction which allows for mutually beneficial trade – has not worked in reality. Studies show workers who complete TAA job training earn no more afterwards than those who do not.

Well, chalk up a win for the good guys. Conservative members of the House of Representatives were joined by outside activist groups such as Heritage Action for America to highlight the flaws in the extension of TAA. This inside-outside combination was enough to postpone the vote.

An even larger conservative groundswell has substantially impacted the spending debate in Washington.

Everybody understands that President Obama and Democrats in the Senate are going to stand in the way of common sense efforts to rein in spending. This is why it is critical that the House of Representatives paint in bold colors and draw a contrast between conservatives’ desire to restore fiscal sanity to Washington and the Obama/Reid approach of giving our children’s wealth to the Chinese.

To have this debate, the House of Representatives must send a bold spending reduction plan to the Senate. In a letter to Speaker Boehner, nearly a dozen senators urged him to send a continuing resolution to the Senate with spending reductions of no less than $100 billion.

As one senator privately noted, “You guys need to send us the boldest proposal you can because it’s going to be watered down in the Senate.”

So what would a bold proposal look like? First, it would achieve the mark laid down in September’s GOP Pledge to America, which called for $100 billion in non-security discretionary cuts. At $58 billion, the GOP’s first proposal in the House of Representatives fell far short of this goal. A subsequent proposal made substantial progress towards the goal by getting up to $84 billion.

While this proposal falls short of the $100 billion in non-security spending, it already has Harry Reid up in arms. Conservatives should welcome this fight and it’s time for us to engage it.

“We’re eager to work with Republicans to cut spending and reduce our debt,” Sen. Reid said. But “the House Republicans’ proposal isn’t responsible.” Earlier in the week, we learned Sen. Reid thought the $58 billion proposal was “draconian.”

If Harry Reid thinks trimming our spending by 1.5% is draconian, that’s fine, but he should put his cards on the table. If he wants to “cut spending and reduce our debt” then he has a duty to tell voters by how much. If he thinks 1.5% is too much then he is acknowledging that he has nothing substantive to offer our national debate on spending because the choices only get more difficult.

In attacking the Republicans’ substantive spending cuts, Harry Reid is telling voters everything they need to know. In the big picture, he is fundamentally unserious. In the details, he just wants to continue failed Washington programs – like TAA – which are the reason America is on the verge of a fiscal crisis.

Reid specifically criticizes Republican plans to reduce spending on the COPS program. This is a poster child for failed Washington programs, as Heritage Foundation scholar David Muhlhausen has argued for years. In 2001, Heritage found COPS grants had no statistically significant effect on reducing the rates of violent crimes. A 2006 follow-up study confirmed this result and found additional evidence that the federal money was merely replacing local spending.

Ronald Reagan once observed “a government bureau is the closest thing to eternal life we’ll ever seen on this earth.” TAA and COPS are perfect examples of this observation. Yet, if America wishes to remain eternally strong, we need to have the courage to take on these failed programs and the establishment politicians who protect them.

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Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.