Who’s Lost Credibility Now?

by Chris Chocola
House leadership has abandoned all the promises it’s made on spending restraint.

When Speaker of the House John Boehner said that conservative groups like the Club for Growth have been “misleading their followers” and have “lost all credibility,” I didn’t pay much attention to it. After all, members of Congress are constantly saying the Club doesn’t matter — even though it’s belied by the facts: Since 2006 the Club’s PAC has helped nearly 50 endorsed candidates get elected to Congress. Some of the party’s brightest stars — senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Ted Cruz of Texas, congressmen Ron DeSantis of Florida and Justin Amash of Michigan — were elected with strong Club-member support. There is a broad consensus that the best Republican pickup opportunity among Senate races in 2014 is the campaign of Arkansas’s Tom Cotton, who was strongly supported by the Club’s PAC (in a competitive primary) in his 2012 run for Congress.

So, when Speaker Boehner made those remarks, I told the press, “I’m not sure what the speaker’s point is other than he is frustrated, and frankly I’d be frustrated too if I had his job . . . He couldn’t get enough Republicans to do what Republicans say they’re for.” But after the House voted this week to raise the debt limit by billions of dollars without even a dollar of spending cuts, it’s time to consider whether the Republican-party leadership stands for anything — other than retaining power for power’s sake.

It’s instructive to look at the actual record of the GOP the last few years. In 2011, Republicans were dragged by leadership, kicking and screaming, into the Budget Control Act (BCA). At the time, the Club opposed the bill, writing in our “Key Vote” alert to members of Congress that “fiscal conservatives should have obvious concerns for the lack of guaranteed future spending cuts.”

We were right. After the so-called supercommittee failed, House Republicans spent the next two years trying to figure out how to get rid of the sequester’s automatic spending cuts.

Which brings us to the Ryan–Murray budget, a partial repeal of the sequester. The agreement was a function of the fact that many Republicans in the House simply never wanted to cut spending or limit the size of government.

I served with and respect Paul Ryan. I know the Ryan–Murray budget is not his ideal budget. But that doesn’t make the deal any less of a joke. An analysis by the Senate Budget Committee Republicans noted that 56 percent of the offsets for the reversal of the sequester come in FY 2022 and FY 2023 — a decade from now.

Speaker Boehner called that “deficit reduction.” I call that a fraud and everyone with any common sense would agree with me. What kind of message does it send to voters when Republican leadership is claiming that you can offset increases in spending today with cuts in spending a decade from now?

Almost immediately thereafter, Republicans voted with the Democrats to pass a perennially terrible piece of legislation, the Farm Bill. This orgy of spending and pork basically constitutes bribing two discrete constituencies — those who will always support more food-stamp spending and those who hail from agricultural districts — to vote for something they would not otherwise. The price is a trillion dollars in spending, 80 percent of which goes to the out-of-control food-stamp program.

And if that wasn’t enough, the House Republican leadership essentially lied to members of Congress by telling them that they would split the agriculture and food-stamp titles of the bill, for the first time in decades, only to re-combine them in conference with Senate Democrats. The Club for Growth warned about this, writing in our Key Vote alert: “We highly suspect that this whole [splitting] process is a ‘rope-a-dope’ exercise. We think House leadership is splitting up the farm bill only as a means to get to conference with the Senate where a bicameral backroom deal will reassemble the commodity and food stamp titles, leaving us back where we started.” We were right. But that is not the point. What kind of message does it send to voters when the Republican party votes to spend a trillion dollars in one day?

I’ll tell you what it tells them: It tells them the Republican party, by and large, doesn’t really believe in much of anything other than maintaining its tenuous grip on power. How else do you explain voting to raise the debt ceiling by billions of dollars this week when Speaker John Boehner had literally called it the “Boehner principle” that “any debt limit increase must be accompanied by spending cuts and reforms of a greater amount”? This was after they tried to combine the debt-limit vote with the elimination of one of the only true spending reforms in the Ryan–Murray budget — nearly forcing fiscal conservatives to vote to add trillions to our debt or oppose benefits for our military (they got rid of this reform in a separate vote). What kind of message would that have sent?

Let’s review: The Republicans voted for the sequester. Then they spent two years talking about how they didn’t want the sequester. Then, they got rid of it, and replaced it with the Ryan–Murray budget. Then, they got rid of some of the cuts from the Ryan–Murray budget. At the same time, they went from wanting a constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment in exchange for raising the debt limit, to “dollar-for-dollar” cuts, to nothing.

And their rationale for this essentially boils down to “we have to take the Senate,” never mind the fact that regardless of the caucus counts, the Senate (and the House) will still be populated by a bunch of RINOs who apparently have no real interest in saving America from fiscal ruin.

So the Republican leadership says the Club for Growth has been “misleading their followers” and has “lost credibility”? That’s a bit ironic, coming from a big-spending, debt-increasing, farm-subsidy enabling, entitlement-expanding party leadership that has abandoned its principles . . . all in the name of retaining their own power. And to what end? 

— Chris Chocola, a former congressman from Indiana, is the president of the Club for Growth.