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EDITORIAL

Let the epic battle begin: Who's the real conservative?

If we don't elect Republican majorities, it really won't matter.

Thursday, August 4, 2011 - 10:34 am

Indiana U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar has already been feeling heat from Hoosier tea party types who are supporting Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the primary race to punish Lugar for not being “conservative enough.”

Now there is this, as reported in The Hill: “Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) might back primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators after all. DeMint had promised after last year's election that he would not endorse any opponents to his fellow GOP lawmakers in the 2012 cycle. But now he is angry enough with the debt-ceiling compromise … that he might back serious challengers to Republican senators who support the plan, according to a source close to the senator.” DeMint is the tea party personified. If he follows through, the Lugar-Mourdock race will be a battle of epic proportions. Down with the phony conservatives! Long live the real conservatives!

Well, Lugar did vote for the compromise package. If a gauntlet was thrown down, Lugar picked it up and threw it back.

This issue, however, is a bit more complicated than the “compromise bad, purity good” posture. Indiana's congressional delegation voted 6-5 against the deal, which means they were slightly in favor of the more conservative position of leaving the debt ceiling alone.

Consider the votes of just two of the delegation – Marlin Stutzman of the 3rd District and Mike Pence of the 6th. Those are arguably Indiana's two most conservative representatives, and they're certainly the two tea party favorites. Yet Stutzman voted no on the ceiling increase and Pence voted yes. Is there anyone out there who doubts Pence's conservatism or wants to argue that Stutzman is more fiscally responsible?

In fact, the two see the same goal, but favor different ways of getting there. Stutzman says, correctly, that all the “budget cutting” in the plan isn't cutting at all, since less than $2 trillion will be removed from a baseline that assumes $10 million more being spent in the next decade. Pence agrees that the deal was terrible, but feels that it averts immediate disaster and at least puts us in a government-reduction frame of mind.

The key to Pence being right is to elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate and put one in the White House. If we do that, the real reform can begin. If not, Pence and Lugar are wrong, and we should have been listening to Stutzman and Mourdock. Giving Washington any more revenue is like shoving free liquor in front of an alcoholic, and there's no sane reason to keep doing it.