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I've long worried that the Republicans have a hidden ace card, and I think we're seeing its first playing.
Here's what worries me. The Republican Party, newly enamored with fiscal responsibility, can make a plausible-sounding argument that after the stimulus bill, the Wall Street bailout, the auto industry bailout, and the homeowner bailout, the federal government simply does not have money left to spend. The American people are tightening their belts -- it's time for the government to do the same. Here's Congressman Tom Price, head of the very conservative Republican Study Committee, essentially making that argument while calling for a freeze in government spending.
"Put simply, government spending is out of control," said Chairman Price. "The American people are making tough economic choices, but this Congress is failing to make tough choices as well. As we sink further into debt, Democrats in Congress continue to endorse the causes of the problem rather than embracing a solution. With federal deficits possibly approaching three trillion dollars, a freeze on new government spending is the least we can do. Washington likes to talk about fiscal restraint, but the American people demand more than lip service. It's time to make responsible policy a reality rather than a talking point."
Quick note: I haven't heard or seen that three trillion dollar figure anywhere else. President Obama's fiscal responsibility summit yesterday was meant to suggest to the American people that Democrats can be the party of thrift, that a public worried that the government may spend beyond its means need not turn to fundamentalists like Price. I think we'll see more of this back and forth as Obama tries to move his budget through Congress in the coming weeks.
Update: Looks like the Republican leadership in the House is already making this a major issue.