The party of checkbooks vs. the party of credit cards

As we barrel toward the November election, it’s worth taking a step back from all the noise for a broader view. Much of the Democrats’ messaging is an attempt to characterize conservatives as being against all government, as though anyone who wants to cut spending or lower taxes is an anarchist. While this is easy rhetoric to mislead voters — especially when you have no real agenda of your own — it’s a bizarre and unfair distortion.

The one belief unifying conservatives isn’t opposition to all government. It’s not even a complete rejection of all new programs or expanding existing programs. It’s a philosophy that government programs should be paid for, that government should live within its means, and not just keep expanding at the expense of taxpayers.

To put it simply, the Republican Party is the party of checkbooks, and the Democrats are the party of credit cards.

Unlike credit cards, checkbooks have to be balanced; the money you spend has to be roughly equal to the money you take in. It might not always match exactly; sometimes you end up overdrawn. However, when that happens, you end up penalized by your bank. Even if it does bring in some money in fees, a bank doesn’t want a customer base full of overdrawn accounts, because then they have no money to loan.

Credit cards operate on the exact opposite principle. Visa, Amex, MasterCard and Discover make money by charging interest rates on debt. It’s in their interest not to have customers who pay their balance every month, but ones who hold on to some debt. That’s how they make their money.

Most of us have both credit cards and checkbooks, but we use them differently. Our regular expenses — heating, electricity, insurance, mortgage payments — we make part of our budget. For major expenses, we might borrow money, but if we’re smart we try to make it as little as possible. When you run a household, you don’t just put everything on a credit card and hope for the best. You try to avoid debt as much as you can, and settle it as soon as possible when it does occur.

Republicans believe our state and federal government should be run this way, too; Democrats want to put everything on credit cards. For state government, these credit cards are labeled things like “bonds”, “the federal government”, “taxpayers”, and “Maine’s hospitals.” For the feds, they’re called things like “deficit spending” and “China”.

The problem with borrowing money for regular expenses is that it allows you to ignore or minimize the real problem: cost. This is the case with Medicaid expansion. Democrats assume that Washington, D.C., will keep its promise on reimbursement rates, which is like assuming that your credit card has no limits and no monthly minimum payment. They have no plan for how the state would pay for this expansion if federal reimbursements are cut or eliminated completely.

Rather than expanding Medicaid on the blind faith that promises will be kept, Maine should put real effort toward addressing the cost of health care. This is like spending a few hundred dollars to fix your car rather than borrowing thousands of dollars to buy a new one.

Maine needs a state government that is run with the same common sense we use to run our own households. If a worthy project deserves funding, we need a plan to pay for it before we start spending money we just don’t have. It’s high time we stop enabling the party of credit cards to swipe our future.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.