Domestic Affairs

The Death of the Fiscal Conservative

The term “fiscal conservative” was once a badge Republicans wore with honor. They took pride in bringing to attention the supposedly reckless spending of the Democrats, claiming they could much better handle the nation’s economy if given the opportunity. To back up this claim they often pointed to the fabled Reaganomics of the 1980s, which featured large tax cuts and trickle-down economics. Though the impact of Reaganomics is often overblown, it long remained the holy grail for conservative economic policy. But Republican’s recent actions suggest that their dedication to Reaganomics and fiscal conservatism may be fading, or was never truly there.

In the early years of the Obama administration, Republicans rallied against Obama’s efforts to revamp the nation’s economy, calling his 2009 stimulus bill “irresponsible” and “a real calamity.” With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans doubled down on this rhetoric, with the official GOP website claiming in 2011 that there would be a “nearly $570 billion tax hike,” and that the bill would add “over $500 billion to the debt.” Republicans now control all three branches of government, and they are putting the validity of their words to the test. Claims of Obama being fiscally irresponsible are at least partially true, he finished his presidency with twice the projected debt than what was originally predicted by the Congressional Budget Office in 2009, but Republicans themselves have also adopted the irresponsible spending habits they once accused Obama of. This new GOP approach to spending signals the imminent death of self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives.


On March 22nd, 2018, Congress breathed a collective sigh of relief. With the approval of the $1.3 trillion spending package in the Senate, Congress avoided yet another government shutdown, which would have been the third within three months. While the passage of the bill itself was a welcome sight to citizens weary of repeated shutdowns, the bill’s contents signaled the shifting of the GOP mindset. By allocating an extra $500 billion in defense and domestic spending over the next two years, Republicans showed that their values still align with a strong military and country. But the hefty price tag attached suggested a drift away from the financial discipline Republicans supposedly held so near and dear. The defense budget percent increases proposed for 2018 and 2019 are larger than those of every peacetime president since 1950 except for one — Ronald Reagan. In addition, federal budget deficits have climbed to $1 trillion for the first time ever under Trump and the GOP-led congress, and the deficit is only expected to go up. These economic policies are not just uncommon for the more conservative side of the aisle, this is a level of debt and spending unheard of.

If you looked back to the numerous instances where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the deficit was America’s most concerning long term issue, you would reasonably expect his name to be alongside the other 23 Republicans who rejected this bill along with its irresponsible spending proposals. That was not the case, and with the Republicans now in control of all branches of government for over a year, it is becoming increasingly clear that their staunch position was a facade. As the few true fiscal conservatives, like soon-to-retire Tennessee senator Bob Corker, cry out against the sudden reversal in ideology of their colleagues, their voice becomes increasingly drowned out by those with greater influence.

Take current director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney. Once a galvanizing GOP Young Gun, Mulvaney ran a 2010 campaign centered around spending, more specifically cutting down on it. Deriding the government’s failure to reduce the deficit, careless spending, and the excessive costs of the Affordable Care Act, Mulvaney surged in the polls and defeated incumbent John Spratt, who held his seat for 28 years. Now, Mulvaney has shifted his perspectives. Mulvaney has publicly called for new deficits, trying to rationalize the GOP tax plan and its projected $1.9 trillion addition to the national debt over the next decade. For a man who once preached financial responsibility and called for $2.5 trillion in cuts immediately after being sworn into congress, this behavior should be shocking. This change of heart, however, is all too prevalent in our current government. With the freedom to implement the policies they have longed for, not necessarily the ones they paraded to garner votes, the Republicans have turned their back on the brand of fiscal conservatism that they once rode to power.

It is clear to see through special election results, as well as the upcoming “blue wave” that is projected to hit across the nation, that the clock is ticking for Republicans to implement their new wave of policy before they face a potential loss of both the House and the Senate. This new approach to economics before the upcoming midterms carries both risk and reward. With the public perception of the economy being satisfactory in general, Republicans can easily adopt the policy of the president to appeal to his core voters, however fiscally irresponsible his policies may be deemed. On the other hand, this approach can turn away true fiscal conservatives who favor less spending and shrinking the deficit. This situation leaves a sort of dilemma Republicans have to solve before the upcoming elections: do you stay true to the fiscal conservatism you once touted, or do you ride the coattails of the president and his self-proclaimed “economic turnaround of historic proportions,” while potentially alienating those more favorable to traditional conservative policy? Regardless, the power shift in the Republican party has been clear, and for better or worse it seems that the few true economic right-wingers are being left behind.

With the national debt projected to rise at least until 2028, the fading voice of fiscal conservatism that once rocked the Obama administration is now on life support. Unless the projected blue wave can once again unite conservatives like the actions of the Obama administration once did, the fiscal conservative will soon become just another relic from the Obama Era.

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