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September 2012 - Volume 17, Number 3


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Washington Isn't Broken — Just Broke

by Edwin Feulner, Ph.D. and Senator Jim DeMint


All of America’s problems, the liberal theory goes, are due to gridlock in Washington, and that’s due to conservatives who refuse to compromise.


If only pesky conservatives would get out of the way, liberals assert, and allow Congress to do more, if only more laws were passed, more spending programs created, more bureaucracies to regulate — things would get better.
The left invariably charges up this rhetorical hill whenever public opinion, election results, and constitutional checks and balances prevent them from imposing their agenda on the country. Washington is broken, they say, and it’s all conservatives’ fault.


The latest version comes from Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of The Brookings Institution in their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. They blame Washington’s acrimony and gridlock on a GOP held captive by Tea Party conservatives, who, they say, are “scornful of compromise.”


It’s all nonsense. What Ornstein, Mann, and their ilk are really upset about is that there are more and more conservatives in Washington today willing to tell voters the fundamental truth about our government: Washington isn’t broken — it’s broke.


As a nation $15 trillion in debt, with historic unemployment three years after liberals supposedly “fixed” the economy with their $800 billion stimulus, voters are agreeing with conservatives that maybe government isn’t as good at solving economic problems as liberals would like us to believe.


Indeed, what the Washington liberal establishment ignores — or tries to hide — is that the grease that has always lubricated partisan friction and facilitated bipartisan legislative compromises has been bigger government, more taxes, and more spending. Republicans would tolerate Democrats’ expansion of government and Democrats indulged Republicans monkeying around with the Tax Code because the economy was growing so fast and creating so many jobs, so much wealth and so much tax revenue, that both sides could still get what they


The problem today is that the big government we’re left with after decades of establishment compromises won’t allow our private economy to flourish anymore. We’re killing the golden goose.


By refusing to reform the entitlement programs that are the crown jewels of the New Deal and the Great Society, the establishment has dug itself into a hole. To make up for the shortfall for the next 75 years of Social Security and Medicare spending, we would need to raise nearly $50 trillion in new taxes, more than three times the size of our current economy. The moment Margaret Thatcher once joked about has come: Liberals have finally run out of other people’s money.


Bitter experience has taught Americans that “compromise” in Washington means more spending, higher taxes, and more debt. And they know we can’t afford any of those anymore. What the American people now understand is that the great crisis in America today is not the inequality between rich and poor but the inequality between the government and everybody else.


That’s where the Tea Party came from — as a rational political response among a citizenry that realized its political leaders were driving our nation off a fiscal cliff.


That’s also why Americans are supporting Congress’s true problem solvers, like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). They have all put forward credible budget blueprints for fixing our fiscal crisis.


Liberals have put forward no ideas at all. Their only hope is to find gullible Republicans to agree to new tax hikes to finance more spending so they don’t bear all the blame.


Americans see what’s happening in Europe — where big government, dependency, and special-interest liberalism is destroying economies and lives. They see Washington trying to pass the same kind of policies, so they sent new representatives to Washington to fight back.


Ultimately, the gridlock we see in Washington is not the result of one party or another. It’s a function of the basic laws of mathematics. Washington is broke, and it’s hurting the rest of America’s ability to expand our economy and end this government-created downturn.


The results of all the runaway spending, debt, and bailouts have proved Ronald Reagan correct. “Government is not the solution to our problem,” Reagan said. “Government is the problem.”


This is obviously the last thing the Washington establishment — especially on the left — will admit: that the policy framework they have created with bipartisan affirmation over the past few decades has led our nation into a fiscal and political crisis.


When things go wrong, establishment writers like Mann and Ornstein blame conservatives, tea partiers, voters, and the Constitution — because they lack the courage to look in the mirror and point the finger at the establishment they call home.


Edwin Feulner is President of The Heritage Foundation. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) serves on the Joint Economic Committee and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.


This article first appeared in Politico on July 23, 2012. The article is reprinted with permission from The Heritage Foundation.


LIMITS is one of our quarterly membership newsletters, arriving in March, June, September, and December. It consists of short articles and essays on protection of human rights by limiting the powers of government.


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