Whose Side Is the GOP On?

Minority Whip Eric Cantor did speak out against it, declaring the plan "fundamentally flawed" and explaining, "In its current form, Secretary Geithner's plan is a shell game that hides the true cost of the program from the taxpayers that will be asked to pay for it."  But he was largely alone in his criticism.

Certainly, the budget has been occupying their time. There is just so much attention the GOP can garner. And getting their "spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much" message out has been hard enough. Yet one wonders if they are hobbled by a political and ideological divide in their own ranks.

Republicans on this and other issues have a choice: defend free markets or reflexively defend business interests. Certainly the markets and the financial gurus are enthusiastic about the prospect of making money with no risk. But simply because the GOP's natural constituency favors such a grab, should Republicans?

The alternative is to resist the urge to defend Wall Street, at least the version of Wall Street which welcomes corporate welfare and crony capitalism.

This alternative would be to embrace, to a large extent, the Tea Party movement -- a popular uprising which calls for an end to bailouts, a return to individual responsibility, and a resistance to subsidizing failure. In this case, that would counsel in favor of robust opposition to Geithner's plan which violates each of those precepts.

This seems like a no-brainer. Newt Gingrich recently echoed a similar theme when he called on Republicans to eschew knee jerk defense of big business:

Over the last eight years the Republican Party became the right wing of the party of big government, and forgot that its grassroots was with the American people. I'm delighted that they're going back. There are simple tests: Is it better or worse for small business? Is it better or worse for the self-employed, for entrepreneurial startups, for your local synagogue, for your local community? If in fact it's terrific for Citibank and GM, but bad for small business, then it's an elite bill-it's not a populist bill.

While that formula can morph into class warfare or calls for soaking big business and the "rich," his central point is a timely one: Republicans err when they abandon conservative free market principles for partisan concerns. The party of free market capitalism, limited government and personal responsibility disregards those ideals at its own peril. As soon as those concerns are put aside to gain favor with business supporters or for the sake of expediency (Try it -- it might finally work!) Republicans sacrifice their raison d'être.

And in this case, good politics just happen to coincide with good policy. The public is overwhelmingly opposed to bailouts. And a grassroots Tea Party movement opposed to this type of chicanery is sweeping the country. The Republicans would be well advised to join the Left on this one and start attacking the Geithner give-away plan. If they don't, they will sacrifice their political soul and miss a golden opportunity to get back in the good graces of the American people.