For us, this is a Valley Forge moment. This is a time for leadership that calls on us to re-enlist in the struggle to preserve freedom, and a leadership that drills us in the principles that made us great.
To get back on track I would suggest we focus on a few simple points: truth, oversight, action and accountability.
One of the lessons from last Tuesday is that we’ve failed to tell the American people – particularly young voters – the truth about where we are.
The truth is, on our present course, the average young person in this country is going to inherit a lower standard of living than their parents. That is unacceptable.
America is already bankrupt. We may not believe it. We may not yet feel its full effects. But we are effectively bankrupt. Our debt, which is 103 percent of our GDP, now exceeds the size of our entire economy.
The crisis is imminent. Today, we’re on the cusp of another downgrade. If interest rates go up one point, we add at least another $113 billion to our deficit every year. If rates return to historic averages, we’ll add about $640 billion to our deficit every year – which is more than our defense budget.
In two years, the Social Security disability trust fund goes bankrupt. In five years, Medicare Part A – the hospital insurance trust fund – may be bankrupt. And in ten years the costs of entitlements and interest on the debt alone will consume all available tax revenues. That means our entire military and discretionary budget will be financed entirely on borrowed – or printed – money.
The truth is we’ll never get to the point of running DOD on money borrowed from China and elsewhere. Eventually, the rest of the world will decide we can’t pay what we owe and they’ll stop lending us money. As I describe in my book, The Debt Bomb, that’s when the party is over.
That isn’t just my opinion. In 2011 Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke told Congress that these unsustainable spending levels can’t continue “because creditors would never be willing to lend to a government whose debt, relative to national income, is rising without limit.”
Here’s why this is important in the context of what happened last Tuesday.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about the left’s so-called demographic advantage and the president’s electoral firewall, and whether that firewall will hold in future elections. Let me tell you some good news. Those of us who believe in the Constitution and limited government have a much more potent firewall working in our favor: it is a mathematical and budgetary firewall. It is a firewall that tells us – in very stark terms – that we can’t afford the status quo. We don’t have the money. Sooner rather than later, the other side will have to accept reforms that are a lot closer to our principles than theirs.
The demographic advantage – at least among younger voters – is a bubble of inflated expectations that can’t be met. Where the left sees a demographic advantage I see a generation of Americans about to be drowned in debt. When that happens, our solutions will be like an ark in the storm.
Hopefully we won’t have to live through such a crisis. If we tell the truth effectively we may not have to.
So, our first task is to tell the truth. The second is oversight, which has to happen before you set priorities and get spending under control.
Oversight isn’t very popular in Washington because politicians on both sides prefer to create new programs instead of looking at whether the programs we’ve already created are working. But, I believe, oversight resonates with families because that’s how they live their lives every day. In the real world, people look their budgets and make choices. In Washington, we make excuses, and defer choices to future generations.
Oversight is about methodically and relentlessly building the case for limited government. And it’s about recognizing that big changes often happen in small steps. That’s why I release reports on all areas of the government. In my latest annual Wastebook report we found federal funding from everything from robotic squirrels to climate change musicals to caviar promotion.
Here are a few more. You can’t make this stuff up. We found:
• $27 million for Moroccan pottery classes
• $505,000 for the promotion of specialty shampoo and other beauty products for cats and dogs
• $1.3 million in corporate welfare for the world’s largest snack food producer, PepsiCo Inc.
• $350,000 for a government-funded study on how golfers might benefit from using their imagination to envision the hole to be bigger than it actually is. Really? Maybe we should have studied how to help politicians imagine a smaller hole in the budget.
The list goes on and on. And I’m adding to the list tomorrow when I’ll release a report that details more than $60 billion in non-defense spending at the Pentagon.
The point of these reports is to help the public have an understanding of government that reflects reality. And the reality is we could reduce the size of government by one-third today and no one outside of Washington would be able to tell the difference.
Oversight, again, isn’t just the responsibility of those of us in elected office. It’s the media’s responsibility as well. Many of you in this room are doing that and I salute you.
So, task number two is oversight. The last two – action and accountability – go together.
Perhaps the greatest problem I’ve seen in the Republican Party since being elected in the Class of 1994 is the gap between our words and actions. We have two forms of conservatism in Washington. One is cheap or complacent conservatism; the other is costly or courageous conservatism. One is common, the other is rare.
Cheap or complacent conservatism is the conservatism of rhetoric, pledges and pandering. Costly and courageous conservatism is a conservatism of action, solutions and sacrifice. Cheap conservatism looks for scapegoats to compensate for its failure to communicate and implement a limited government agenda. Costly conservatism is brimming with optimism and compelling solutions. Cheap conservatism treats particular areas of the budget as sacred based on political expediency. Costly conservatism treats every tax dollar as sacred based on the principles of liberty and self-government.
Whether we have cheap or costly conservatism really is up to all of us in this room, particularly those of you who are leaders in the media and interest groups. My challenge to you is don’t elevate the politicians who tell you what you want to hear; elevate the leaders who are willing to take us where we need to go.
Let me make a final point about accountability. Many want to blame our setbacks in the Senate, in particular, on the Tea Party. I agree we need to do a much, much better job of candidate recruitment. But the problem in Republican politics isn’t the challengers: it’s the incumbents: it’s the career politicians who say they are for limited government and lower taxes but make decisions that give us bigger government and higher taxes.
Voters will forgive us for trying and failing, but they won’t – nor should they – forgive us for not trying. If we align our actions with our words and primary ourselves with term limits we’ll create the kind of leadership America needs.