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Betrayed by Bush, GOP's anger is moot

by GNS/The Desert Sun Friday, Dec. 12, 2003 at 3:04 AM

Small-government Republicans have been stirred up by conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. But when the election comes, the libertarian faction's anger will be "almost irrelevant... Are they going to vote for Howard Dean?"

Conservatives vent about president's moves, future spending
Gannett News Service, December 10, 2003

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is a "fraud" and a "disaster." He's betraying the Reagan Revolution. He has turned the Republican Party into the "the new welfare state party." Those are Republicans talking. And that rage from Republicans who favor small government and fiscal restraint, both in Washington and the heartland, could mean trouble for Bush's re-election.

"This administration has presided over one of the most massive expansions of the federal government in history," said Phil Heimlich, a Republican who serves as a Hamilton County, Ohio, commissioner. He grades Bush a D. "Conservatives feel betrayed," said Brian Reidl, a federal budget expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"As far as this fiscal conservative is concerned, I'm doing everything I can to expose Bush for the fraud that he is," adds Jim Urling, a Cincinnati lawyer and chairman of a local group that fights government spending and taxes.

Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said fiscal conservatives are important to the president and that the campaign would listen to them. But, he said, the president was focused on solving problems -- and one of them was the high cost of prescription drugs for seniors.

Rep. Mark Souder, a conservative Indiana Republican who voted for the Medicare bill, said that small-government Republicans have been stirred up by conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. But when the election comes, the libertarian faction's anger will be "almost irrelevant," he said. "Are they going to vote for Howard Dean?" Souder asked.

"It's not to say that there isn't a restlessness and a concern, but at the end of the day you would have a tough time convincing conservatives that George Bush isn't closer to Ronald Reagan than his dad." When people label President Bush a "big government socialist," Souder said, "most conservatives go: What? Excuse me?' "

Here are reasons fiscal conservatives say they are angry with Bush:

1) The federal government added a new prescription drug benefit to Medicare, the largest expansion of government entitlement programs in nearly four decades. Bush signed the bill Monday. The government pegs its initial costs at about $400 billion over the next decade. But as baby boomers retire, the costs are expected to climb to $772 billion in the decade following that and will only get higher.

2) Federal spending has jumped to its highest level, per household, since World War II, according to the Heritage Foundation. "The unfortunate truth is that the Bush administration, aided by a Republican Congress, has increased spending more in three years than the previous administration did in eight," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

3) A $128 billion budget surplus when Bush moved into the White House is now a $375 billion deficit with few people optimistic that the federal budget will reach balance again.

4) Bush fought against turning half of a $20 billion Iraqi reconstruction aid package into loans, lobbying heavily to make sure the Republican Congress kept all the funding as a taxpayer-funded grant.

5) Some Republicans are upset over the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which they see as federal meddling in local schools. The education law requires states to set achievement standards for all schools.

The worry for the Bush campaign is not that Republicans will vote for the Democratic nominee next November. It's that they will stay home.

"Does that matter? It matters if we have as close an election as we had in 2000," said Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation. "If Bush wins substantially, it's not going to matter."

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, one of the 25 House Republicans who voted against the Medicare bill, said some of the Republican base will be demoralized by the expansion of government under Bush. Why, he asked, would the GOP base be enthusiastic about traipsing to the polls if they see the party of Ronald Reagan becoming the party of entitlements?

On Friday, 13 Republican House members sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert complaining that the last four years had seen the biggest expansion of government in 50 years. A final, massive spending bill for fiscal 2004 -- passed by the House Monday -- would only make matters worse, they said.

"Before we pass another massive appropriations bill, we believe Congress must make preparations to put our fiscal house in order," wrote Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the letter's author. If Congress won't kill the bill, they said, Bush should veto it.

Although the measure easily passed the House, it faces tough opposition in the Senate.

With Congress nearly evenly divided between the two parties, the backlash from angry Republicans could even shift control of the Capitol, some Republicans worry.

It was the Republicans' message of less government, lower taxes and fiscal responsibility that prompted voters in 1994 to give them control of the House and Senate, said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

"The message clearly resonated with Americans -- and still does," he said. "If Republicans continue to turn their backs on that message, we risk the voters turning us out of power."

Polls show that the budget deficit is not one of the top concerns for most voters, who instead cite Iraq or the economy. Even some of the fiscally conservative Republicans say they like Bush's leadership on just about everything else -- the war on terrorism, abortion and, especially, his tax cuts.

Polls show the deficit and government spending is a low concern for voters, who are much more worried about the economy, Iraq and terrorism. But for Republicans who favor small government, polls show that one concern is paramount: the fear that their children and grandchildren will end up footing the bill for irresponsible decisions made by Washington during the last four years.

The Heritage Foundation calculates that just to pay for the prescription drug benefit, households will have to pay an additional $1,125 in taxes per year by 2030. "I'm not happy at all," said Tom Brinkman, a Republican state representative from Cincinnati. "The spending is out of control and somebody's going to have to pay for it, and it's my children. And I don't think that's right," Brinkman said.

"The majority of Republicans, at the urging of the president and GOP congressional leaders, voted for the $7 trillion prescription drug entitlement to become the nation's new welfare-state party, depriving the Democrat Party of its sole claim as champion of big government."
-- Donald Devine, Vice chair, American Conservative Union

"By any principled, conservative standard, Bush has been a disaster in every arena -- domestically, internationally, fiscally, socially."
-- Jim Urling, Cincinnati lawyer, small government activist

The Medicare law "will be very troubling to the Republican base. Our voters sent us here to be different. I assume their enthusiasm would wane significantly if we have become what we replaced."
-- Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

"The Republican Party has been the party of fiscal restraint and responsibility since the free-spending days of the New Deal. However, if present spending habits persist, we're going to have a hard time convincing voters that we can be trusted with the federal purse strings."
-- Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

"In the eyes of many conservatives, today's GOP simply has abandoned its limited government heritage to buy votes and gain political power in Washington."
-- Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas

"Over the past half year, conservatives have realized the spending and budget deficits are not solely the result of recession and 9/11. It's becoming clear that these are permanent problems. Conservatives feel betrayed by President Bush, by the leadership in Congress, pretty much by all elected Republicans. For the most part, there has been surprisingly little leadership. ... The Medicare bill was an abomination."
-- Brian Reidl, Heritage Foundation
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