Sound Policy is Sound Politics

Tim Phillips

1/11/2013 1:15:00 PM - Tim Phillips

As I watched Congressional Republican leaders stumble too often during the fiscal cliff negotiations, I was reminded that a wise mentor often said, "Sound policy is sound politics." This is a lesson Republicans should have learned by now. Instead they’re using flawed logic and telling themselves, “President Obama won the election with a mandate for higher taxes that the public currently supports. A strategic retreat now on tax hikes and cutting government spending will strengthen our political position and keep us relevant in the long run."

So in pursuit of this flawed strategy enough Republicans agreed to a budget deal that includes both a tax increase and spending increase.

Raising taxes at this point is particularly grievous given the enormity of our spending problem. Yet the Left spends a great deal of time blaming the rich for not “paying their fair share.” In reality, the government could take every penny high earners possess and, while it would satiate at least temporarily their envy, it wouldn’t begin to solve our problem. In fact, if the government confiscated 100% of every dollar Americans made over $250,000, it would only be enough to fund the country for a little over four months. And then that wealth would be gone forever. (Hat tip to the great Iowahawk for doing the math).

The narrative that originated with the Left and has been accepted by too many Republicans, is that all reasonable conservatives ought to get busy compromising core principles if they ever want to be relevant again. But looking back through recent history, those who stood firm on good policy – especially when it was difficult – also made the right strategic decision politically.

In 2009, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, and President Obama enjoyed 70% plus favorability ratings with the public. Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill was heralded as a mandate of his election victory and a necessity given the times. Most Democrats and even some Republicans joined in the chorus demanding this stimulus spending. Public opinion polls at the time showed that over 60% of Americans favored giving the popular new president this vast increase in government spending. The "savvy and reasonable” GOP strategists said a tactical retreat from opposing new spending was vital for the Republican party to survive.

The lifecycle of Cap and Trade was much the same. The global warming legislation was blatantly anti-free market and anti-business. Yet high favorability with the public pushed many Republicans – not wanting to seem unreasonable – to once again forget their principles and openly support the law. They told themselves that with Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, it was just too risky for anyone to stand in the way of their global warming ideology.

To their credit, the vast majority of Republican House and Senate members, backed and encouraged by groups like Americans for Prosperity, stood on principle and opposed the president's Stimulus and cap and trade even – ignoring the supposedly sage political advice of many Beltway pundits. They consistently and clearly articulated the free market position, exposed the truth about the stimulus and policies like Cap and Trade, and took the free-market message to the American people with bus tours and rallies in every state. What happened next was the greatest conservative resurgence in modern history, as the public overwhelmingly rejected bad fiscal policy and took back the House from Democrats the following year. It’s telling that few in Congress today boast about their support for Cap and Trade or the Obama stimulus.

When the dust settled, those leaders who had stood against overspending and over regulation had strengthened their position and gained influence by following the long-term political strategy of putting sound policy first. Many of those who bent to the whims of pollsters and pundits were fired by the American people.

Conservatives fought the Stimulus bill and Cap and Trade because they were a clear violation of core principles. Today, the truth about overspending is just as real as it was in 2009. Republicans know that taxing Americans will never solve a crisis created by wasteful spending. So before you believe the political strategists and evening anchors who say that conservatives need to give in, remember that they said the same thing about those who stood against bad policy in 2009.

They were proven wrong then. They will be proven wrong now. For their sake, and our nation's sake, let's hope congressional Republicans remember.