Meet the New, Big-Spending GOP Senators! Same as the Old, Big-Spending GOP Senators?


If election prognosticators are correct, the Republican Party is likely to take control of the Senate.

So how is that likely to influence federal policy on spending, debt, and cronyism?

One way to get an indication is to look at the Republican senatorial challengers who if successful today would flip a Democratic Senate seat to the GOP. I looked at the candidates' campaign sites to see where they line up when it comes to reducing the size, scope, and spending of the federal government.

If the following people win—and stay true to their campaign promises—there is no reason to believe a GOP Senate will cut spending or shrink the government.

Meet your potential new bosses, then. Same as the old ones.

Dan Sullivan, Alaska: Sullivan's campaign site makes it clear that he would be a typical Alaskan politician in Washington when it comes to seeking to tap federal taxpayers to fund largesse back in the state. He touts his opposition to Obamacare and makes the standard call to rein in spending, reform the tax code, and cut red tape. However, he doesn't offer any details and his focus on delivering pork to Alaska undermines his professed concern about Washington's spending-driven debt problem.

Tom Cotton, Arkansas: The section of Cotton's campaign site that offers the clearest view of his policy stances is the one that attempts to rebut his opponent's claims and criticisms. Unfortunately, the section largely amounts to Cotton pointing out the various instances in which he indeed supported federal spending. From farm subsidies to entitlements, Cotton makes it clear that he is—contra his opponent's claims—a supporter of government programs. Interestingly, his latest campaign video concludes with a call for "less government and more freedom." It's hard to reconcile that stated aim with the message conveyed by his website.

Cory Gardner, Colorado: Gardner's site touts his "4-corners" plan for Colorado, which turns out to be a smorgasbord of contradictions. For instance, Gardner says that he supports "flatter and fairer" federal tax codes; however, his support for numerous tax breaks for various special interests undermines that claim. On education, Gardner says "keep Congress out of the classroom" while simultaneously stating his support for various federal education programs. Gardner notes his support for a balanced-budget amendment but he offers no details on what he would cut to achieve balance. His claim that he has "has fought to reduce [the $17 trillion plus national debt] by examining waste, fraud, and abuse in all sectors of government" is as vacuous as it is unfeasible. When it comes to the real driver of the national debt—old-age entitlement programs—Gardner states that he wishes to "strengthen Medicare and Social Security."

Joni Ernst, Iowa: Ernst's site makes it clear that she would represent a near-complete change of pace from retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, a progressive Democrat. Ernst says a lot of the "right" things when it comes to free markets, taxes, and regulations. On this issue of federal spending, however, the Ernst campaign site is noticeably lacking in details. On federal entitlements, Ernst promises to "protect Medicare and Social Security"; she says she supports reforms that will "ensure the long-term health of both programs for her daughters and grandchildren and their generations." That's a politically practical approach, but the reality is that her grandchildren are going to take it on the chin unless Sen. Ernst and her colleagues take the bolder approach of shrinking the entitlement welfare state. In addition, her support for a balanced-budget amendment while failing to explain what she would cut to achieve balance is disappointing. Her support of the U.S. government's costly global military presence will also considerably complicate efforts to eliminate deficit spending.

Bill Cassidy, Louisiana: Cassidy's campaign site calls for "free-market health care solutions that give patients the power" and says that "out-of-control spending" needs to be stopped. On health care, Cassidy deserves credit for proposed reforms. However, rather than a free-market for health care, Cassidy supports adjustments to the federal government's already oversized role. As for how Cassidy would attack the spending that he says is out of control, his website simply doesn't say. He's against earmarks, but is he against federal grant and loan programs that are essentially different means to the same end? Given his support for keeping federal flood insurance premiums low in order to keep his flood-prone constituents happy, the answer is probably no.

Steve Daines, Montana: Daines' campaign site calls for "More Jobs, Less Government." However, the slogan is curious given that Daines doesn't lay out a vision for less government other than to tout his support for a balanced-budget amendment and a promise to "stop Washington's wasteful spending." To the contrary, Daines touts his commitment to spending more taxpayer dollars on seniors, veterans, women, and Indian tribes.

Thom Tillis, North Carolina: Tillis's campaign site says that he "will work to shrink the size of our federal government to its core Constitutional role so the private sector can thrive." Sounds good. He sounds the right notes on issues such as repealing Obamacare, reining in federal regulations, and ending the bailout mentality in Washington. His site also says that "he believes we must restore the original intention of the Constitution and redirect the federal government toward the purposes our founding fathers intended." That's fine, but it's not clear what Tillis believes those purposes to be. Does he think that the federal government's overgrown system of entitlement programs is in line with intentions of the Constitution's authors?  Or what about the vast military empire that sprung up more than 150 years after the ink dried on our founding document? We'll have to wait and see.

Mike Rounds, South Dakota: Rounds' site touts an "approach to limited government [that] is most in line with South Dakota values." On the bright side, Rounds calls for local control of education and the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education. He also calls for deference to local units of government when it comes to regulation. However, Rounds' support for a balanced-budget amendment typically lacks details on what he would cut in order to achieve balance (he says he's against tax increases, so the balancing would have to come from spending cuts). Compounding the lack of specifics is a promise to protect Medicare spending and a disavowal of Paul Ryan's proposed entitlement reforms. Rounds cites the federal government's unsustainable fiscal trajectory, which is being driven by entitlement spending, but his overall stance would indicate that he's unprepared to do anything about it.

Shelley Capito, West Virginia: Other than pledging to protect the coal industry, Capito's campaign site is devoid of any information on her policy stances. 

The bottom line is that anyone who is hoping that a GOP takeover will bring small government to town will be deeply disappointed.