Pavlov’s Republicans

Although I have probably been the single harshest critic of Mitch McConnell in the blogosphere, I have to say that for the 2nd time since Obama was elected, he has done the right thing in the clutch. (He also encouraged Senate Republicans to oppose the bailout of the Big 3.)

Congressional Republicans on Monday said they would work with Democrats to craft a plan to stimulate the economy, but only if GOP ideas are considered for a bill that could cost as much as $1 trillion.

“We need the right mix of tax relief and other measures to grow the economy,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement.

The Democrats’ plan to pass a yet-unwritten stimulus bill before President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration next month gives Congress too little time to consider what’s in it, he said.

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“Taxpayers are in no mood to have a single dollar wasted, but it’s not yet been explained how their tax dollars will be protected…in a rush to spend their money,” McConnell added.

His comments and a simultaneous statement by House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio indicate that Republicans are emerging from their political fox hole with a traditional call for smaller government – even as many in the GOP ranks have joined Democrats in support of government rescues for the ailing financial sector.

…McConnell and Boehner said the Democrats’ ambitious timetable leaves little chance to ensure those goals are met. Both said there should be hearings on what’s in the bill and that the legislation should be posted online for public review for a week before it’s brought up for votes in the House and Senate.

Now, I know what the standard reaction to McConnell and Boehner’s stance here is going to be. Most people are going to say something like, “Why haven’t they been doing this for the last few years?”

To that, I would say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Conservatives have been screaming, “Be fiscally responsible, be fiscally responsible” at Republicans in Congress practically since Bush got elected back in 2000. Usually, we were disappointed with the results.

Why? Two reasons.

#1) Bush believed in big government and Congressional Republicans were usually disinclined to cross him.

#2) The inside-the-Beltway crowd in D.C. actually came to believe that they could run on fiscal conservatism while doling out money at a frightening clip, year after year, without it ever catching up to them.

For a while, their strategy worked because the war on terror trumped domestic concerns for a majority of Americans. However, when the GOP’s advantage on foreign policy issues eroded and domestic issues became a much bigger factor, Republicans crashed and burned.

I’m still not convinced that the GOP has learned its lesson yet, but they don’t have to play follow the leader anymore and after being beaten into the ground twice in a row, any Republican in D.C. who isn’t completely braindead should realize that something has gone seriously awry with their “big spender” strategy.

That means that Republicans may not be where they need to be yet, but they will probably start moving in the right direction. If conservatives are smart, instead of sneering at them, we’ll reward them for fiscal conservatism.

It’s like Pavlov’s dogs. Ring a dinner bell every time the dog eats and soon, he’ll associate food with the bell. Then, all you have to do is ring the bell to get the dog to salivate.

It can work the exact same way with Republicans in Congress now that they’re going to start being more fiscally responsible. Rub their nose in it when they waste money, give them a treat when they roll over and play conservative, and next thing you know, they’ll associate killing spending projects with lavish praise.

Despite what they say, you can teach an old dog — and even old Republicans in Congress — new tricks.

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