The Freedom Caucus will make a momentous decision this week. They will either stand up for the constituents who elected them and begin changing Washington’s culture of kleptocracy or they will elect Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House.
But let’s begin with a bit of history.
After adding six trillion dollars to the national debt under the presidency of George W. Bush and a mostly Republican Congress, the Republican Party had little to offer the American people. In the 2008 wave, Barack Obama and the Democrats campaigned on a platform of war-ending and new domestic spending.
Traditionally, the Republican Party would counter such a platform with calls for fiscal responsibility, but, with their track record, the GOP didn’t have a leg to stand on.
In 2009, President Obama and his Democrat super majority presided over the first trillion-dollar deficit. They passed a trillion-dollar stimulus, then proposed Obamacare, a multi-trillion-dollar new entitlement. The Republican Party, unable to credibly make a case for conservative governance, left millions of voters voiceless. So we took to the streets. Thousands of local tea party groups sprang up in cities and towns from coast to coast, renewing calls for fiscal responsibility, breathing new life into a conservative philosophy that had been abandoned by Washington Republicans and Democrats alike.
In 2010, scores of Republicans were sent to Washington, not because of, but in spite of Republican stewardship. The tea party movement saved the Republican Party. And for all of our tea party efforts, what was our reward?
Saying that John Boehner was a weak leader is like saying that the Challenger experienced difficulties after takeoff. After surfing to his speakership at the crest of the largest political wave in eight decades, Boehner could have reminded President Obama that elections have consequences. He could have squeezed the federal purse tight and ushered in a new era of fiscal responsibility.
He could have led. But he didn’t.
He acquiesced almost immediately, insisting that he only controlled “one half of one third” of the federal government. If only someone had told him that, in the federal system designed by our Founders, one half of one third is perfectly capable of wagging the dog.
Consider two hypotheticals.
The President wants to add one hundred billion dollars in new spending to the annual budget. Congress talks him down to an increase of only fifty billion.
Congress wants to cut one hundred billion dollars from the annual budget. The President talks them into cutting just fifty billion.
Each is an example of a compromise. The former is a compromise on progressive terms. The latter is a compromise on conservative terms. Each is equally within the realm of the possible. With roughly half of the country represented by Republicans and half by Democrats, one might presume that Washington compromises are evenly split.
Astoundingly and unfortunately, compromising on progressive terms is how the federal government has - without exception - conducted itself for nearly two decades. The most recent pause in progressivism’s creep was in 1997, when Speaker Newt Gingrich orchestrated a balanced budget.
In 2010 and 2014, Republicans were sent to Washington in droves, in landslide elections. They were not sent to slow government growth. They were sent to stop it. They were sent to reverse progressivism’s progress, to reduce the size, power and reach of the federal government. Under John Boehner, they failed.
And Paul Ryan was in lockstep with Speaker Boehner.
Ryan derided Boehner’s critics, often came to his defense, and, as Chairman of the Ways and Means committee, Paul Ryan enabled and facilitated government growth. Instead of finding common cause with the tea party and the Freedom Caucus, Ryan considers them an annoyance and an impediment. Like Boehner, he’s engaged in retaliatory measures against conservatives who criticize him.
Within the Washington bubble, there’s a gravitational pull toward progressivism. Republicans and Democrats alike succumb to it. They allow earmarks to replace their convictions and lobbyists to replace their constituents.
The Freedom Caucus has stood firm against that pull.
Since 2010, the Freedom Caucus has grown in size and influence because it has gained support from those outside of the Washington bubble. The Freedom Caucus is the one bulwark within the federal government that threatens the status quo, that champions limited government and remains loyal to the voters who sent them there in the first place.
To our friends in the Freedom Caucus, thank you. Please continue to stand firm for conservative values. The future of our nation depends on it.
Preliminary version published in Conservative HQ 10/27/15.