Loose Canons

Stand and Deliver: Advice From a Federalist Governor

Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell knows what Republicans need to do -- without delay.

By 11.9.10

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Congressional Republicans have a mandate to stop President Obama's spending spree and rein in the federal budget. But they have a plethora of plans to get it done. How best to sort them out and get to work?

On the day after the election Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour threw out the idea of having some state governors take an unusual direct role in crafting those plans. In a Friday interview in his Richmond office, Governor Bob McDonnell told me he thought that Barbour's idea was a great one. Between the two -- and with the help of other like-minded fiscal conservative governors such as New Jersey's Chris Christie -- congressional Republicans could be able to act before the mandate they received a week ago expires. And by doing that, they may buy enough time to achieve the long-term budget cuts our nation needs.

Gov. McDonnell told me, "We have some very deep fiscal problems in this country that are going to take dramatic, bold action to fix. The Republicans campaigned on a fiscal conservative platform of economic development, job creation and deficit reduction. So, it's time to deliver.".

I asked the governor about the proposal to establish a new congressional committee to have jurisdiction over the entire government to craft spending cuts, a sort of "counter-appropriations" committee. He said, "They don't need a committee: they need action. They need to have cuts."

McDonnell is concerned about hints of delay. He said, "I've heard some plans out there that say we're going to take eight years" to balance the federal budget. "I don't think the American people are going to wait eight years to balance the budget." And the governor has confidence that voters will support the bold actions he thinks necessary. "I've never seen a time where people were more willing to accept and more understanding of the need for sacrificing on government cuts than right now."

The Virginian believes congressional Republicans should push immediately to tell people that Republicans want to put people back to work by passing legislation to continue all of the Bush-era tax cuts, further reduce capital gains taxes, and push other specific plans to create jobs. Then, McDonnell believes, there would be a foundation for a longer-term reassessment of how the federal government burdens the states.

As noted, the day after the election, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suggested that conservative governors could come to Washington both to help congressional Republicans craft cuts to the federal budget and to bolster their resolution to act. McDonnell said, "It's a great idea" and that he'd be honored if Congress would ask all governors -- Democrat and Republican -- to give advice. He thinks the governors could take an active role in both helping cut federal spending and bolster Republican confidence that the cuts would be well-received. He said the governors could "…tell them we've made these cuts and Rome didn't burn and they didn't throw us out of office."

That confidence, McDonnell said, should not be based only in the congressional results. The  depth of the new Republican mandate has to be measured also in terms of the gains Republicans made in state elections as well. As reported by the invaluable Michael Barone, Republicans took control of twenty state legislatures from the Democrats last week, gaining 675 seats, the biggest turnover since 1928.

McDonnell believes that the depth and breadth of the state-level victories should bring another element to the national spending debate. "It really is time for an honest and robust discussion about federalism," he said. "What does the Tenth Amendment really mean? Part of the reason you've got this long-term deficit is you keep legislating in areas that you shouldn't be in."

McDonnell is a firm federalist: "Stick to what the federal government is supposed to do. Do that well -- fund it well -- but then stay out of areas that are traditionally reserved for the states. Let us manage those areas." He added, "That's the discussion we need to have over the next couple of years. Does the Tenth Amendment still mean anything? If so, govern within your bounds at the federal level."

I posed the California dilemma to McDonnell. Governor-elect Jerry Brown is likely to preside over the first bankruptcy of a state. Should the feds bail California out?

"Absolutely not," said McDonnell. "I don't subscribe to 'too big to fail.' There's no obligation of the United States to bail them out." He believes that the campaign plan offered by Brown's opponent, Meg Whitman, was as good a plan as could be devised and that the California legislature should adopt Whitman's ideas to turn their state around.

Most governors -- at least those who preside over states other than California -- have to produce a balanced budget every year. They have to face the burgeoning unfunded mandates of Obamacare, Medicaid, and so much more. Their advice -- otherwise unobtainable inside the Washington beltway -- would be invaluable to congressional Republicans who might otherwise not be able to sort out their competing plans and deliver on their campaign promises.

Republican leaders -- not just in the House, but in the Senate as well -- should convene a closed-door meeting with Govs. Barbour, McDonnell, Christie and the other fiscally-conservative governors to do just that. And the doors shouldn't be reopened until they come up with a bicameral plan of action that will deliver what the voters said they wanted on November 2: real cuts, real restraint of government spending and a concise plan that all of them can put into legislation that will pass the House in January.

Will Harry Reid try to block it? Of course. Will Obama veto it if Reid can't? Naturally. Which is all the more reason to do it.

2012 will be here all too quickly. Republicans need to do what Bob McDonnell suggests: stand and deliver. Right now.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.