In this winter of conservative discontent, one of the most dispiriting things is the congressional Republicans' rampant timidity on spending reduction. They lack both urgency and creativity on how to handle one of America's biggest challenges.
"Manana!" has become the GOP's battle cry for limiting the size and scope of government. Spending cuts, and a consequent decrease in Uncle Sam's role in American life, keep vanishing into an ever-receding horizon.
A congressional supercommittee was supposed to axe the budget in 2011. When the supercommittee utterly failed, conservatives were assured that, by late 2012, a "fiscal cliff" would frighten even Democrats into curbing spending. Instead, Republicans swallowed higher tax rates on top earners in exchange for nothing.
"Have no fear," GOP leaders said with a smile. Wielding their leverage over the national-debt limit, Republicans finally would make their stand.
Instead, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada crowed last week, "I'm very glad that they (House Republicans) are going to send us a clean debt-ceiling bill" — sans even symbolic budget cuts.
Thus, Washington can borrow whatever it wants. Then, on May 19, the debt ceiling automatically will rise to cover all the borrowed money that Uncle Sam has stuffed into his pockets. (Imagine such a magic credit card in your wallet.) This non-solution probably will crowd out potentially productive private borrowers today (hindering current growth), increase the odds of a debt crisis tomorrow (especially if higher interest rates boost debt-service costs on America's $16.5 trillion national debt), and strap a back-breaking stack of IOUs on future generations.
Regardless, congressional Republican leaders claim they will confront President Barack Obama and profligate Democrats over the so-called sequester. More likely, Republicans will slide their tails between their legs and mope away, yet again.
These constant, French army-style retreats are beyond maddening, especially because the American public looks ready for fiscal responsibility.
Earlier this month, a Fox News poll asked whether government spending was being managed carefully or was out of control. In the random national sample of just over 1,000 registered voters, 83 percent replied "out of control," up from 62 percent in April 2009. Only 11 percent answered "managed carefully," down from 22 percent in April 2009.
This survey also found that 69 percent of respondents said the debt limit should be raised "only after major cuts." Only 23 percent disagreed, calling it "reckless not to." (Margin of error: +/- 3 percent.)
If Republicans cannot lead, perhaps they should follow public opinion.
From the Emancipation Proclamation, to supply-side tax cuts, to reversing Communism, to welfare reform, the GOP has been the party of big ideas (like them or not). But Republicans now look brain dead on fiscal discipline.
Why can't they identify, say, one dozen antiquated, duplicative or destructive federal programs and terminate them? Do we still need the 1935 Rural Utility Service, now that it has delivered electricity to Appalachia and currently stays busy by wiring farms with broadband Internet? Kill the sugar and ethanol programs already.
Why not implement zero-based budgeting, so every agency must justify its outlays from the first dollar, rather than receive fresh money atop last year's allocation?
Why not scrap Uncle Sam's taco-stand cash-accounting system and introduce accrual accounting, which Washington demands of publicly traded companies?
Why not turn every federal bureaucrat into a potential government waste fighter? Those with winning suggestions could receive one-time bonuses of, say, 1 percent of the taxpayer dollars that they save.
Why not start addressing entitlements by trimming Social Security and Medicare benefits for millionaires? Let Democratic class warriors scream otherwise.
Republicans still control the U.S. House, which they constantly forget. A vast network of free-market think tanks constantly offers limited-government ideas worth loudly advocating, adopting and sending to the Democratic-led Senate. Republicans there should introduce these as amendments. While Reid and Obama ultimately may resist, Republicans might as well try courageously to enact such policies. For now, the GOP's strategy of surrender generates laughter on the left and tears on the right.
Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace. Email Deroy.Murdock@gmail.com.