With a new Congress underway, and a Republican administration about to take power, there is a lot of excitement in the air in anticipation of the policy priorities Republicans may be able to accomplish. Some, however, have clearly misread the change in the political winds.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently made a bold prediction that people “will see [Republicans] sticking together more” in a Trump administration. The comments were concerning, given that Republican leadership has often tried to lead the conference astray.
McCarthy excused the behavior of House Republican leadership over the past few years, which included the passage of two budgets that blew through the spending caps set under the 2011 Budget Control Act, and blamed the House Freedom Caucus. The group of around 40 principled fiscal conservatives in the chamber “made the House Republicans actually weaker because you had to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi. If we stuck together, then we’re always stronger.”
“I’m sure [House Freedom Caucus] districts, Donald Trump probably did the best in. It’d be hard for them to stand up if President-elect Trump is asking for this fundamental change, and they’re saying no to it, is harder,” McCarthy added.
While he wasn’t in Congress for all of the Bush administration, McCarthy should realize the reasons why Republicans lost control of the legislative branch. They fell in love with power and became corrupted by it. Put simply, Republicans lost their way, as defined by the limited government principles on which they run in every election.
Anyone who remembers the fiscal profligacy of President George W. Bush’s administration should be concerned by McCarthy’s comments. Congressional Republicans enabled massive spending increases under the Bush administration, growing the federal budget by 53 percent in eight years, including a 20.7 percent increase in non-defense discretionary spending in his first term, according to the Mercatus Center’s Veronique de Rugy.
“[O]n big government spending, it was hard to see how a Democratic administration could be worse than the Bush administration’s eight years,” De Rugy wrote, “until Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States.”
Not even a month after an election in which voters gave Republicans control of the White House and Congress, McCarthy suggested that there won’t be room for dissent in his conference.
Responding to McCarthy’s comments, outgoing House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) explained that the majority leader missed the point of the election.
“The Freedom Caucus was formed as a group to take on the establishment in this town and fight for regular working-class, middle-class families,” Jordan said. “Along comes a candidate, who’s now the president-elect, who ran a campaign to stand up for working-class and middle-class families and take on the establishment–and, somehow, because all that took place, the relevance and influence of the Freedom Caucus has diminished? I think most people would say no. I think it just reinforces that we were on the right track. We were fighting for the right things, and where Donald Trump is pushing for those very things that voters sent us here to do, he’s going to have us helping in every way we can to make sure they happen.”
McCarthy and the rest of House Republican leadership cannot treat the results of the election as business as usual. The national debt is hovering around $20 trillion, ObamaCare is falling apart at the seams, and excessive regulations are strangling the American spirit of entrepreneurship, there is too much at stake for Republicans to lose their way again.
The House Freedom Caucus is the conscience of the congressional Republicans. They will work to advance limited government policies, but they will fight bad policies, regardless of whether they are pushed by Republicans or Democrats, to protect taxpayers. They want to rollback the regulatory state, reduce regulation, and restore the constitutional separation of powers between the branches of the federal government. These principled advocates of limited government want to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with patient-centered alternatives, not simply ram ObamaCare-lite through Congress.
McCarthy and House Republican leaders would be making a serious mistake if they misread the results of the election. Voters wanted to “drain the swamp,” not maintain the cesspool that is the status quo in Washington. If McCarthy wants respect the results of the election, he should have the House Freedom Caucus play a prominent role in 2017 and push a pro-growth agenda.
Adam Brandon is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks.