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It's the spending, stupid -- the GOP must stay on message

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FILE: Dec. 13, 2012: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accuses President Obama of not being serious about cutting government spending during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (AP)

John Boehner held a press conference Thursday, at which he accused President Obama for “just not being serious about cutting spending.”  It’s about time.

Republicans are being hammered in the court of public opinion, and they have only themselves to blame. Americans are sick to death of political bickering, and want to see a deal done to avoid the fiscal cliff. Most people think a tax hike on the wealthy is part of a reasonable approach to narrowing our budget deficits. Republicans bucking this popular notion continue to drag out the tired arguments about hitting small businesses where it hurts; most people don’t imagine that the local barbershop is in the top one percent – and they’re right.

Here’s what the GOP should be talking about: our ever-increasing spending. For the first two months of the current fiscal year, federal spending is up 16%. No one has broadcast that figure -- and it is a stunner. Because spending is up more than revenues, which have climbed 10 % so far this fiscal year, our budget deficit is higher – by 25% -- than a year ago. That’s right—higher. Even as President Obama claims to have cut spending.

Republicans need to tap into America’s innate conservatism, and they have failed to do so.

Imagine: our budget deficit for the first two months equals $292 billion. Not long ago, Americans would have swooned over that much red ink.  In fact, our annual deficit has exceeded that amount only eight times in our nation’s history – and four of those have been under President Obama.

Americans don’t like deficits; they consistently rank as a top priority reining in spending. Voters know that we are borrowing heavily – one of every three dollars we spend – to finance our red ink, and in the process debasing our dollar. 

They know the Federal Reserve is spinning out new money at an unprecedented rate to keep the ship of state afloat; that institution now has a balance sheet of more than three trillion dollars.

They are unhappy that our federal debt now tops $16 trillion – and that President Obama is now demanding free rein to raise our debt limit even further. They know it is only a matter of time before some investor, somewhere, decides that the U.S. is no longer the best of a bad bunch, and starts demanding higher returns on his loans to Uncle Sam.

Republicans need to tap into America’s innate conservatism, and they have failed to do so. They have allowed President Obama to tag them as the party of “no” -- weapons of mass obstruction. It’s time the GOP got some new talking points, and told Americans the truth about our budget and this White House.

During the election, the back-and-forth between Mitt Romney and President Obama became a bewildering swirl of facts and figures, with both parties denouncing the other for misleading the public.  Both candidates very nearly accused the other of lying.

The truth is that budget projections are based on myriad assumptions and projections; the data is confusing. Here’s what is not confusing: the record. Had the GOP focused on what Obama has actually spent, and not on his fanciful visions of the future when mythical cuts to Medicare (which really are poppycock) and to other programs take hold, they would have scored higher. As it was, a newly cynical public got bored and tuned out. What voters remembered was that Obama pledged to go after the wealthy – and not them.

Republicans have a chance to turn this conversation around. But they better act fast. A new poll from CNN shows the GOP “brand” taking a big hit. Only 30% of Americans have a favorable view of Republicans – down from 36% before the election. Possibly worse: 45% view the GOP unfavorably today, up from 43% before Romney was defeated. Karl Rove is thinking aloud about a Republican comeback in the midterm elections. Good luck with that. Until and unless the GOP crafts a new and compelling message they are toast in the next cycle.

Republicans lost the election when they lost their main selling point: that they could do a better job than Democrats of managing the economy. 

Mitt Romney never convinced voters that his remarkable business success – which, as Paul Ryan noted, is a “good thing’ – could translate into sensible stewardship of our government.

Given the hash that President Obama has made of our recovery -- the weakest on record other than the Great Depression – and his clear failure to connect with the business community – aka actual job creators, that was a remarkable failure.

Voters should question: why is spending still rising? Most people acknowledge that Mr. Obama took office under tough circumstances. They cut him some slack on puffing up spending with the $800 billion Stimulus bill, which was meant to be a temporary fix for high unemployment. They should ask, today, why is spending not advancing at the 2% rate of the overall economy? What programs are out of control?

They might want to review Senator Tom Coburn’s annual survey of federal extravagance, aka "The Waste Book." Providing 16.5 million people with free phone service, or food stamps to buy frappaccinos, or spending $700,000 on a musical about climate change are a few tokens of our government’s wasteful spending. There are plenty more.

In a recent Public Policy Polling survey, 44% of Americans think Santa Claus is a Democrat, while only 28% think he’s a Republican. In other words, voters may already know why spending is rising.

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to FoxNews.com. She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit LizPeek.com. Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.

 

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