NEW YORK They are the ones we've been waiting for.
Arizona Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are poised to rescue the GOP's core commitment to limited government. Alas, it has been stomped to pieces by top Republicans such as President Bush, former House leaders Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay, Senate GOP chief Mitch McConnell, and his predecessor, Bill Frist.
After winning the White House and Congress in 2001, Republicans aggressively slashed taxes. McCain supported most of these cuts but opposed others. He now pledges to make Bush's tax cuts permanent and let every American choose between today's impenetrable, 67,204-page tax code and an optional, flatter tax, perhaps at 25 percent and 15 percent rates.
While Republicans appropriately removed the boots from taxpayers' necks, they idiotically launched an entitlement-busting, pork-barreling spend-o-rama that drained the Treasury and discarded Republicans' hard-earned reputation for fiscal restraint.
Between 2000 and 2006 the year Republicans frittered away their Congressional majority federal discretionary spending swelled 40 percent after inflation, from $762 billion to $1.067 trillion. Even subtracting defense and homeland security, such spending accelerated 27 percent.
Bush and most congressional Republicans enacted the 2002 farm bailout (cost: $190 billion), the 2003 Medicare drug entitlement ($783 billion through 2018; $8.4 trillion through 2082), and 2005's highway bill ($286 billion). McCain wisely voted no, no, and no.
Meanwhile, Citizens Against Government Waste calculates, pork-barrel projects ballooned from 4,326 earmarks worth $17.7 billion in 2000, under Democrats, to 9,963 boondoggles worth $29 billion in 2006, under Republicans. (Earmarks peaked at 13,997 in 2005.) John McCain condemns such gluttony and never has requested an earmark.
"While others offer empty rhetoric on spending restraint," says Heritage Foundation fiscal analyst Brian Riedl, "Senator McCain has been a lonely voice for fiscal responsibility in a free-spending Congress."
For her part, Palin won a seat on Wasilla's City Council in 1992 by opposing tax increases. She defeated a three-term incumbent for mayor, then cut taxes on property, business inventories and aircraft a not uncommon asset in America's vastest state.
Palin eventually torpedoed incumbent liberal Frank Murkowski in the GOP's gubernatorial primary, and then sank former two-term Democratic governor Tony Knowles.
Gov. Palin sold via eBay a $2,692,600 Westwind II jet that Murkowski bought with taxpayer funds. "The purchase of the jet was impractical and unwise, and it's time to get rid of it," Palin said in December 2006. "In the meantime, I am keeping my promise not to set foot on the jet."
Gov. Palin blew the whistle on oil commissioner Randy Ruedrich and Attorney General Gregg Renkes, two Republicans who later paid a fine and resigned, respectively, for ethical violations. Palin signed a bill last year that, among other things, mandates ethics training for legislators and lobbyists, requires public officials to report bribery, and prohibits politicians from swapping votes for campaign cash.
Palin endorsed Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell GOP primary opponent to Alaska's pork-scented, scandal-scarred Republican Congressman, Don Young. She also has locked antlers with Sen. Ted Stevens, whose federal corruption trial begins in October.
Palin's first budget requested a 6.8 percent expenditure reduction. Her second proposed a 7.8 percent cut. When legislators spent even more, she could have holstered her veto pen, as Bush did for six years. Instead, Palin said, she exercised "nearly half a billion dollars in vetoes."
"I told the Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' for that Bridge to Nowhere," Palin said in Wednesday night's barnburner at the GOP National Convention. "If our state wanted a bridge, we'd build it ourselves."
"She has proposed restraint in state spending, which is impressive given the huge, oil-fueled surpluses the state is currently enjoying," says Cato Institute scholar Chris Edwards. He called her gubernatorial tax record "uninspiring," given her tax hike on oil companies and small state-level tax cuts, such as a one-year, $40 million suspension of state fuel taxes. Nevertheless, Palin enjoys an 86 percent approval rating.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at [email protected]