MINOT, N.D. — We haven’t had a governing majority in the federal government committed to fiscal prudence in a long, long time.
We have had lots of politicians who like to posture themselves as fiscal hawks. Former North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad did that, though he started his career in the U.S. Senate by bailing on a vow not to run for re-election absent a balanced budget.
He did run for re-election, only for the Senate seat vacated by deceased Sen. Quentin Burdick, a deft maneuver allowing him to get around his promise.
He then spent years and years continuing to tout himself as a budget boffin even as the Senate Budget Committee, under his leadership, produced one budget after another with deficits.
He was a hypocrite, but in good company while in Congress. Because they’re mostly all hypocrites.
Few of them, whatever their partisan affiliation, has ever really meant what they said about budget deficits and the national debt.
Not Democrats. Not even Republicans, who have long branded themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.
Talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh — one of the most influential voices in American conservatism and a long-time critic of the nation’s red ink — said nobody is really a fiscal conservative.
He said nobody has ever really been a fiscal conservative.
“In 2019, there's gonna be a $1 trillion deficit. Trump doesn't really care about that. He's not really a fiscal conservative. We have to acknowledge that Trump has been cruelly used,” a caller to Limbaugh’s show said during a recent episode.
“Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it's been around,” Limbaugh responded.
I hope he’s wrong.
I don’t think he is.
Nor do I think this abandonment of basic fiscal prudence — as our nation moves swiftly toward $23 trillion in debt — is entirely the fault of the politicians.
I think they’re giving Americans what they want, which is expansive federal government and low taxes.
Those are two contradictory goals, but because they are the will of the people, the only way to make it work is deficit spending.
Nondiscretionary spending — things like Social Security and Medicare — make up the bulk of our budget. While most Americans will tell you they are against budget deficits, any mention of reforming those programs (or any of a myriad of other examples of popular federal spending) to reduce costs is the political equivalent of running into a brick wall.
Few want it.
The same with tax hikes. People may claim to hate budget deficits, but most people don’t hate them so much they’re willing to pay more in taxes, though they might be OK with some other group of people paying more, a reality politicians are happy to exploit in their never-ending crusade to win by dividing us.
Meanwhile, the national debt grows, and we all trust that some future generation of Americans will finally commit themselves to a repayment plan.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.