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February 15, 2004

What Is a Fiscal Conservative Anyway?

Last week, the Washington Post described the anti-tax Club for Growth as supporting "fiscally conservative Republican candidates."

Huh? The Club for Growth and other organizations like it, such as Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), can be described in many ways, but "fiscally conservative" is not one of them.

Last year, at an event sponsored by the Mercatus Center, Club for Growth chief Stephen Moore argued for higher deficits via additional tax cuts, because "the housing market could decline" and the economy might need an additional boost.

That’s a liberal Keynesian argument, not that of a fiscal conservative.

This year, ATR head Grover Norquist argued that deficits don’t matter. Spending is important, and taxes are important, he said at a forum sponsored by the New America Foundation, but the difference between them -- the deficit -- is meaningless.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound very "fiscally conservative." Real fiscal conservatives are supposed to support balanced budgets, not deep deficits.

Where were these fiscal conservatives when Congress and the White House enacted a bloated (and at least partially unworkable) prescription drug benefit last year? Or the lavish farm bill the year before? The appropriations bills larded with pork-barrel "earmarked" spending? Or all the tax cuts that have turned large surpluses into deep deficits?

If they protested, they didn’t make much noise.

How can the Post call Republican political operatives who push big tax cuts but fail to fight for spending cuts "fiscal conservatives?"

To be fair, some real fiscal conservatives have started speaking out. The Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute have been beating the drum for lower spending in recent months. To its credit, Heritage went berserk over the cost and wrong-headed structure of the drug benefit. (To their shared discredit, both institutes favor additional tax cuts, despite the fact that revenues are at their lowest level since the 1950s.)

The better label for the Club for Growth is "anti-tax." "Powerful" or "influential" would also be accurate, as would "radical" and "extremist."

What about "anti-government?" Is that also a fair description?

We used to think anti-tax activists were motivated by a desire to "starve the government." Their advocacy for tax cuts was also a means to an anti-government end.

However, the most virulent anti-tax activists have been complicit in the rapid growth of federal spending over the last couple years (most of it -- think agriculture, pork-barrel appropriations and drugs -- for crass political purposes). The Club for Growth certainly talks a good game on spending cuts. Unfortunately, it hasn't used any of its clout to achieve many. It seems the "anti-government" label isn’t really accurate.

Anti- "good" government perhaps. Certainly not "fiscally conservative."

Fiscal conservatives balance budgets. They do not leave mountainous debts to their successors.

Washington Post Shaping Conservative Agenda: 'Monday Meeting' in New York Draws a Crowd by Ben White (February 12, 2004)

Posted by Jeff Lemieux at February 15, 2004 04:17 PM

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