Making a difference

Jennifer Biddison
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Posted: Oct 07, 2005 12:00 AM

The federal debt is now nearly eight  trillion dollars.  If that number doesn’t startle you, Bill Lauderback, Executive Vice President of the American Conservative Union, wants you to answer this question: If you stacked $8 trillion worth of dollar bills, one on top of the other, how tall would the pile reach?

Of course, the number is horrifying even without the visual image.  After all, paying off a debt of eight trillion dollars is like paying back one dollar a second for the next 253,678 years!  We don’t even have recorded history from 250,000 years ago.  But for those of you who think visually, picture this: You could stack dollar bills all the way to the moon, and then all the way back, and still not have used eight trillion of them.  If you had credit card debt like that you’d be in big trouble. And our nation is in no less peril.

It is widely accepted by fiscal conservatives that President Bush does not share their view on spending.  Between the Medicare prescription drug plan and the recent transportation bill, conservative groups have usually labored in vain trying to defeat irresponsible spending bills before the president could sign off on them.  But while they’ve focused on these individual battles, many of them may have lost sight of the big picture: the amount debt accumulated under George W. Bush. 

When President Bush took office, the debt ceiling was $5.95 trillion and hadn’t been raised since 1997.  But in the last three years, the debt ceiling has been raised over 27% – and is rapidly heading toward yet another hike.  Even though Congress increased the debt ceiling to $8.184 trillion last November, national debt today is nearly $8 trillion – and growing rapidly.  “With Katrina spending, the transportation bill, and the various appropriation bills yet to be enacted, and in the absence of any real spending cuts, Congress is going to need to vote yet again to increase the debt ceiling before they adjourn for the year,” notes Lauderback.

But Lauderback vows that members of Congress won’t be able to raise the debt ceiling again “without a fight and without the American people knowing what they’re doing… We’re going to demand that they vote on it in the light of day.”

To throw public scrutiny on federal spending, ACU’s Board of Directors has recently passed two resolutions, one condemning excessive federal government spending, and the other applauding Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) and the House Republican Study Committee for their efforts to cut spending.

“The conservative movement is seeing that what they sent to Washington is not what they bargained for,” says Lauderback.  “Many Republicans are acting like Democrats in that they say one thing on the campaign trail and do something totally different when they get to Washington.”

The first ACU resolution goes so far to say that “conservatives throughout the United States are increasingly losing faith in the President and the Republican Leadership in Congress to adequately prioritize and rein in federal spending.”

There are exceptions in Congress though, and Lauderback sees rays of hope in Sen. George Allen (R-VA), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA),  Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), and all members of Congress who recently supported Operation Offset, an effort to find savings in the federal budget to pay for hurricane relief.

Lauderback contrasts the actions of these courageous leaders with the actions of President Bush following Hurricane Katrina. “It’s grossly unfair and just wrong to blame New Orleans on George Bush,” says Lauderback, but “it is equally wrong for George Bush to try to spend his way out of a bad [public relations] situation with taxpayers’ money.  He overreacted to the bad publicity, going on a multi-billion dollar spending spree without mentioning offsets until the day after his New Orleans speech.”

No wonder conservatives have found such a hero in Pence, chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee.  At a Young America's Foundation Capitol Hill event for interns on September 26, Pence delivered remarks that have since inspired thousands of conservatives.  Alluding to Ronald Reagan’s famous “Time for Choosing” speech, Pence said:

…today is another time for choosing whether we are committed to the ideals of limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values or whether we will continue to sacrifice those principles on the altar of preserving our governing majority… We must rediscover the principles of limited government that brought our party to power in 1980 and 1994 and put them into practice. This requires that conservatives have an agenda, built on the principles of limited government…

Pence has been rebuked by GOP leadership for his outspokenness on spending, but he has also earned acclaim from conservatives, exemplified by ACU’s latest board resolution.  “As strongly as we support Congressman Pence,” says the resolution, “we just as vehemently oppose Speaker Hastert and other defenders of the status quo and urge them to remember that the GOP only became the majority governing party when it rejected Nelson Rockefeller’s liberal wing of the Republican Party and instead embraced the courageous conservative leadership of Ronald Reagan.”

If you’ve wondered whether or not to bolt from the Republican Party after watching it slide into synch with big-government proponents, Lauderback suggests repressing that urge for now, and instead focusing on next year’s primary elections.  “Incumbents who haven’t seriously tried to stop this out-of-control spending should face very conservative challengers,” he says. 

When Townhall.com talked with Lauderback he voiced a concern that out of control spending would play a large role in next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists.  CPAC is sponsored by the ACU Foundation as part of ACU’s mission to provide a central rallying point for the conservative movement. 

Said Lauderback:  “CPAC is going to be focused on presenting a new agenda for America that looks at what we need to do the reverse the explosion in the size of government and also what we need to do to secure our borders and cut down on illegal immigration.  The White House and Congress have turned a blind eye to illegal immigration for too long.  We’ll also be looking at national security, the War on Terror, a broad-based agenda for America.  Clearly the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress have gotten off track.  It’s up to conservatives to present a road map for achieving responsible government.”

When Congress last raised the debt ceiling in November, even the mainstream media criticized the hike. And now, as Congress toys with the idea of raising the debt ceiling again, conservatives are uniting in opposition.  Rep. Ron Paul summarized the sentiment of many fiscal conservatives when he spoke against last year’s debt ceiling increase. “Congress has become like the drunk who promises to sober up tomorrow, if only he can keep drinking today,” he said. “There is only one approach to dealing with an incorrigible spendthrift: cut him off.”

The American Conservative Union is working hard to keep the pressure on Congress, but it needs your help.  Lauderback urges conservatives to not just call their representatives in Washington, but to become a pest to the Members’ district offices as well.  “The [district] staff whose phones never ring will pay attention.”