The Era of Anti Big-Government Bomb-Throwing Republicans is Back

Capitol Hill Republicans are starting to feel giddy. They are beginning to sense they might have something to live for after all. Like a backsliding suitor who has seen the light, they have returned to their true and first love. And it feels so right. Natural. A match made in heaven.

Without breaking a sweat, the Democrat-controlled House passes a pork-infested omnibus package to finish out last year’s (fiscal 2009) spending bills; Republican lawmakers didn’t miss a beat trashing it to smitherines. And it felt really, really good.

Forget the fact that a sizable percentage of the aforementioned porkage in the omni was courtesy of those same high-minded Republicans who are no doubt ranting and raving about it back home this very second.

And just yesterday the president rolls out a truly staggering $3.6 trillion budget for 2010, and all across town, Republicans uncork a torrent of criticism toward this evil creation of the pro-big government, free-spending, socialist (wink, wink, nod, nod), "I told you so" President Obama.

Fair enough. The numbers coming out of Washington these days are humongous, and just where this throw of the fiscal dice could lead us if things don't work out exactly right is a truly scary scenario to contemplate.

Scary and exhilarating at the same time for Republicans, who are loving every blessed minute of it.

Having no real responsibility for governing anymore, Republicans are more than content to be settling in for a long season of doing what they seemingly do best — being the discontented, "principled" minority seeking to save the republic from those nasty, love-government, socialist liberals who will not rest until they redistribute every dime you earn, program every area of your life and snatch away every last one of your freedoms.

Or so the narrative will increasingly go.

Speaking this morning at a meeting of conservatives in downtown Washington, Oklahoma GOP Sen. Tom Coburn summed up the Obama budget just that way when he said: “It’s about taking your freedom away.”

Confession time: I am a HUGE fan of Coburn, not because I agree with everything he says but because he is one of the few people out there who will look you in the eye, tell you what he is up to and, as infuriating as it is for folks on both sides of the aisle, legislate and vote exactly the way he said he would.

Coburn believes that “freedom” line deep down, while most others who will increasingly be using similarly crafted phrases will be doing so because it simply gets conservatives hooping and hollering, up on their feet and, I presume, keeping the campaign coffers, even in these most challenging of times, a-cofferin'.

In the House TV gallery Thursday, GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) absolutely blasted the Obama budget with a line that I am sure we will be hearing 24/7 for days to come: “The era of big government is back.”

Boehner borrows, of course, from former President Bill Clinton’s “the era of big government is over” line from his State of the Union speech in January of 1995.

After his fellow Dems had been completely shellacked by the Newt Gingrich revolution the previous November, Clinton needed a new approach, so he coined the perfect phrase for the times and rediscovered his inner centrist.

All that to say — governing is different than bomb-throwing.

Republicans tried to govern for a while — and they led us into a Treasury-depleting money pit of a war that didn't need to be fought. Meanwhile, back home they rewrote the book on porking up the spending bills, all the while allowing the "self-regulating" financial geniuses up in New York tend to the nations' banking needs. And here we are.

I would challenge you to go back and see how many of those spending bills, on the principle of frugality, were vetoed by their fellow conservative-in-chief George W. Bush.

So here we go. Hold onto your seats. The Republican "message" will be strong and clear, and to be honest — a lot of it will be correct. The only problem is that no one, including me, will believe them.

Republicans had their chance at governance and they blew it.

If they now think their newfound fiscal soundness is going to propel them back into power anytime soon, they are deluded.

Here's some free advice. If Republicans truly want to be relevant again, they need to pick one big, bold national policy problem and come up with a true, sane, frugal, smart, "Republican" approach to solving it. They need to lead on some issue — as opposed to being a unified party of whiners because "Oh my God ... We're spending so much money!!!!"

Take healthcare, for instance.

Sure — don't call it "universal" coverage or "nationalization" — but the truth of the matter is — we already have it.

It is called the emergency room.

Today, in any city in America, someone is rolling up to the emergency room with a hacking cough and no insurance. That person will be treated — maybe even admitted overnight to get some antibiotics in their system. A couple of nights in the hospital and we're talking $20,000 to $30,000, easy. And guess who is paying for that? We all are. And we should. We are a good and caring people, and we don't want hacking and coughing people to fend for themselves.

But a true-blue conservative would agree that if we had gotten to the "hacking cougher" two weeks ago, and given him or her a doctor visit, an antibiotic and a few days in bed, it would have cost "us" a fraction of what the ER/hospital visit would cost.

If frugality is the new name of the game for Republicans — well, then they need to get serious, put on their thinking caps and join the discussion. Pick any one of the issues that keep the rest of us real people up nights worrying. I am sure Republicans can come up with some good ideas that solve problems and emerge from the very core center of what they say they really believe.

Unfortunately, it will take a little more time and won't give them the instant gratification they might get by scaring all the folks back home with all the horror stories about how much money we are spending. Surely the party that gave us the man who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation can do better than that.