GOP walked the plank on spending
In politics, election results are usually known within a few hours after the polls close, but the real story behind the results often takes more time to reveal itself. So it is with the November 2006 contest. In their haste to view the Democratic...
In politics, election results are usually known within a few hours after the polls close, but the real story behind the results often takes more time to reveal itself. So it is with the November 2006 contest. In their haste to view the Democratic takeover of the House and Senate as a consequence of the Iraq War and scandals in Congress, pundits overlooked another important factor -- tax and budget issues.
Poll after poll has shown that Democratic voters were more energetic and likelier to turn out this year than Republicans. Why? One answer lies in the fiscal habits of candidates who were defeated.
National Taxpayers Union's 2005 Rating of Congress scored House members on 201 roll-call votes affecting federal taxes, spending and economic issues. Of the 20 Republican incumbents who lost their seats on Nov. 7, just two earned a pro-taxpayer rating score high enough to win a "Taxpayers' Friend Award." The remaining 18 lawmakers scored several points below the GOP average for the whole House. The same pattern held true for the six Republican senators ousted.
The upshot: When these lawmakers deserted their fiscally conservative base, in the process boosting federal outlays 45 percent over the last five fiscal years, the base deserted them.
What about folks who aren't faithful to the party? They didn't seem impressed either.
A CNN poll taken just before the election showed that by a 54 percent to 37 percent margin, a sample of Americans with all affiliations thought government should be doing less, rather than more, to solve the problems confronting the country. Further, 72 percent of respondents believed the size of government had ballooned in the past four years.
Given a substantial majority who'd like to shrink Washington's waistline, and an even larger one that thinks the party in power made Uncle Sam fatter, is it any wonder the GOP was sent packing?
There's more evidence at the state and local level. Governorships in Arkansas and Ohio, where retiring Republicans had poor records on taxes, flipped to the Democrats, while GOP state executives in Minnesota and South Carolina who practiced fiscal restraint won re-election.
More moderate Democrats in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee -- all of whom either advocated tax cuts or kept a lid on budgets -- cruised to victory.
But the most telling sign that voters were thinking hard about their tax dollars doesn't involve office-seeking women and men; it's in the measures placed on ballots for the public's consideration. Residents of California, which John Kerry won by a 10-point margin in 2004, voted like rock-ribbed conservatives by defeating all four tax-hike proposals put before them.
Tobacco tax increases, on the ballot in four states, are usually considered slam dunks for passage. Yet their win-loss record was only .500; Californians and Missourians turned them down. A 1 percentage-point sales tax increase was nixed in Idaho, and a Michigan scheme to guarantee a minimum inflation-adjusted level of school funding lost handily.
Voters elsewhere readily agreed to lower the burden of government. At least 10 state ballots featured proposals to cap, reduce or grant exemptions from property taxes, and only one of them was defeated. South Carolinians put a limit on increases in taxable property values. Arizona and Nashville residents approved measures protecting current, or requiring future, public referendums for certain property tax hikes.
One of the biggest Nov. 7 trends was protection from eminent domain abuse. In nine out of 11 states, voters adopted measures that largely prohibit government seizures of private property for economic development to create more tax revenues and permit such actions only for public uses such as roads and schools.
As political gurus examine the top of the ticket to sort out the 2006 election, they shouldn't ignore the bottom line: There is no public mandate for more government. "Pocketbook issues" made a major impact at the polls, and Americans firmly decided to keep their own pocketbooks closed.
PETE SEPP is vice president for communications with the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va.