Is Fiscal Conservatism Dead?

"The priority is spending," the energetic and newly minted congressman, sporting an American flag pin on his dark suit jacket, told the C-SPAN host, soon adding, "the size of the government is really what it comes down to."

The year was 2010, and the congressman-elect was Mick Mulvaney, then a 43-year-old restaurateur and developer who rode the tea party wave during President Obama's first term to defeat 14-term incumbent Democrat John Spratt and be the first Republican to represent South Carolina's 5th Congressional District since 1883.

Fast forward to 2017. The national debt has surpassed $20 trillion. The country's budget has seen nothing but deficits for the last two decades. Spending has only gone up, even under a GOP-run Congress. And arguably, Republicans — who control the White House, Senate, and House — don't seem terribly concerned.

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell agreed with much of Corker's assessment, adding that the "realities of governing don't always comport with principle."

"Especially in Bush's case, and in Trump's case and even in Obama's case, to a great extent, when you have slim majorities in one or both chambers of Congress," O'Connell said. "And you realize that there is principle but you have to show that you can govern, and if you can't govern, well you're going to go back to screaming to the wall and talking about principle. It's a vicious cycle of what happens when you're in and out of power."

During the most recent Bush administration, Republicans often gave less of a priority to reducing the budget than Democrats, O'Connell pointed out. For instance, in 2007, Pew found Republicans were less likely than Democrats (42 percent to 57 percent) to say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority for Congress. But shortly after Obama took office and into 2016, Republicans in Pew polls were more likely to say reducing the deficit is a top priority than Democrats or independents.

The GOP faced the same obstacle when it tried — repeatedly and unsuccessfully — to repeal Obamacare, which expanded Medicaid eligibility to millions more Americans. 

"The problem is once you give someone or a group of people a benefit, it is very very hard if not impossible to take away said benefit," O'Connell said. "That's the reason why we have this issue."

Read more from Kathryn Watson at CBS News

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