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Cowardice, Not Courage, Led House Republicans to Side with the Democrats

by | Apr 25, 2024

Cowardice, Not Courage, Led House Republicans to Side with the Democrats

by | Apr 25, 2024

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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Over the weekend, the House of Representatives passed four foreign aid bills that will allocate a combined $95 billion to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and other “national security priorities.” House Republicans followed Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) lead and joined with Democrats to deliver all the foreign aid President Joe Biden wanted without requiring much of anything in return.

The passage came after House Republicans had handed the president similar victories with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization and government spending.

New York Times columnists celebrated Speaker Johnson for, in their words, “finally (showing) a spine.” Columnist Bret Stephens went as far as to call Johnson’s decision to roll over an act of courage:

Nothing is more difficult these days in American politics than going against your own ideological tribe. And nothing is more admirable than politicians who are willing to challenge their base and gamble their office for the sake of a great cause. I wasn’t much of a fan of Johnson when he became speaker of the House, but what he’s done is a profile in courage.

Speaker Johnson took a similar tone, framing himself as a courageous and selfless public servant willing to “do the right thing,” regardless of the personal consequences.

But Johnson didn’t do the right thing. And he certainly didn’t do the courageous thing.

America is a global empire that’s spread too thin. Washington could have used its unipolar moment following the fall of the Soviet Union to relax the totalitarian military bureaucracy built up during the Cold War. Instead, the United States government launched multiple unnecessary wars in the Middle East, needlessly expanded the anti-Russian military alliance in Europe, and helped militarize the waters and neighboring governments that surround China’s coast.

The U.S.’s meddling in the Middle East inadvertently swung the balance of power way in Iran’s favor. In Europe, NATO’s eastward expansion turned the Russian regime back into an enemy and eventually provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. All the while China has maneuvered and worked to gain control of its own near-abroad and to build up military forces strong enough to back that effort up.

Officials in Washington have decided that they are the ones who should be in charge of the entire Middle East, all of Eastern Europe, and the East Pacific. The American people have already been forced to pay trillions of dollars and to sacrifice thousands of their sons, daughters, and siblings for this project. And Washington exerts even less control over those three regions than it did three decades ago.

But money and lives are not the only things Americans have been forced to give up. In the name of fending off the foreign enemies that they helped create, U.S. officials have trampled on privacy rights here at home. Thanks to courageous journalists and whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, we know that the government uses the existence of foreign adversaries to sidestep the right to due process and violate the rights of Americans.

At home, the federal government spends trillions of dollars every year, either taxed directly out of our pockets or less directly through borrowing and money printing. That spending fuels interventions in the economy that nearly anyone who has taken an introductory economics class could tell you have bad consequences. But those bad consequences are used to justify more interventions, which themselves have bad consequences that are then used to justify more interventions. It’s an interventionist death spiral. Life becomes less affordable, important goods become harder to acquire, and the government has to tax, borrow, and print more and more every year to fund it all.

These are all serious and significant problems. But they’re also not insurmountable.

Government spending needs to be cut substantially. Not only to ease the burden of high federal taxes and the permanent price inflation that accompanies permanent money printing but also to put an end to all the destruction that spending has wrought.

From its beginning, the federal government has used its ability to protect our rights to justify its very existence. As long as the political class keeps up that story, it’s reasonable to demand that they stop violating our rights themselves with intrusive and unconstitutional programs like warrantless surveillance.

And the political establishment’s fantasy about controlling every inch of the globe needs to be put to rest, especially while parts of this country remain so unsafe and the situation at the border grows even more chaotic. Washington’s imperial ambitions cost a lot of money and create unnecessary enemies.

It’s clear many Republican voters understand, at least at a high level, what needs to happen. Every Republican candidate claims to support spending cuts. And recently, Republicans have had to navigate their base growing more skeptical of Washington’s hyperactive foreign policy. And when FISA was due to be renewed, numerous Republicans worked to implement restrictions on warrantless surveillance.

To their credit, some Republicans were serious enough to try to use their small House majority to make as big a dent in the above problems as possible. They kicked out a Speaker for not sticking with an agreed-upon change to the government spending appropriations process, tried to impose FISA restrictions, and froze funding for Washington’s foreign interventions for months. For that, they were disparaged daily in the establishment-friendly media.

But in the end, Mike Johnson and the so-called moderate Republicans gave in on all three fronts. They greenlit another increase in government spending, reauthorized warrantless surveillance, and agreed to force Americans to fork over another $95 billion for foreign interventions. For that, Johnson and his Republican allies are celebrated in The New York Times and other “respectable” outlets.

There are policy changes that can solve many of the biggest problems facing Americans. But the changes won’t be easy or pleasant for the politicians who enact them. They must stop kicking the can down the road and face the economic destruction brought on by past interventions—not to cover up, delay, and amplify the reckoning. And they require politicians with the courage and wherewithal to stay committed, even when New York Times columnists and MSNBC hosts say mean things about them. Speaker Mike Johnson and his Republican allies are clearly not those politicians.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Connor O'Keeffe

Connor O'Keeffe

Connor O’Keeffe produces media and content at the Mises Institute. He has a masters in economics and a bachelors in geology.

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