Is there will for true economic conservatism?

Conservative activists and politicians like to differentiate themselves from their liberal counterparts by staking out the high road on fiscal responsibility. In return, rank and file conservatives laud efforts to rein in spending and support those candidates and officials most verbally opposed to extravagant governmental largess.

However, is it really over-spending that self-proclaimed fiscal hawks oppose – or just spending that doesn’t end up in their bags of loot to take back to their home districts?

Consider what is taking place in Bismarck. Republicans are having a tough time cutting the budget down to size. But aren’t they cutting it from levels that Republicans grew the budget to in the first place? Weren’t we told that the increased spending in recent years was on one-time infrastructure related to the oil boom? Then why is the budget so swollen, if recent spending increases were one-off deals? How is it that the Legislature, firmly in the grips of the allegedly economically responsible party, managed to grow the budget during an oil boom they had to know was cyclical – since they always are? If this is a case study, one can assess that it isn’t so much that Republicans are opposed to spending – as long as they are the ones spending it.

Nationally, you can see the same dynamic reflected including in our own delegation. While both Republican members of the delegation tacitly support this administration’s efforts to curb spending, they seem to remain content to bring the bacon home to North Dakota. Just this week so far, Sen. John Hoeven’s office hailed a federal grant in North Dakota for a Head Start program. So did Rep. Kevin Cramer. It’s not unusual. Whether it’s Cramer or Hoeven or Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, our delegation, like others, loves to bring federal dollars to North Dakota – even if they decry the bulk of federal spending excess.

Is it fiscally responsible to support airports with few if any passengers? How’s that ethanol subsidy working for taxpayers? Anyone talking about these things?

Ultimately, talk is cheap. North Dakotans pride themselves on financial prudence and they elect people who reflect that value, among others. So do taxpayers in other states. But is it really possible to project that value to the state or national level? Would North Dakotans support a candidate whose idea of financial responsibility included not bringing home federal tax dollars? Or would voters cry foul? Is it over-spending that raises public ire, or is it over-spending on things that funnel tax dollars to other states that many resent?

True economic conservatism doesn’t look like what is offered by many, if not most, on the right. Bringing home the bacon can’t be the success threshold if the nation is to return to the constraints of the Constitution. Do Americans have the will? Do North Dakotans?

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