My fellow conservatives,

Last November, voters sent a clear signal to Congress: cut spending and get our government in order. As we watch the current debate in Washington over how to fund the government for the rest of 2011, it is clear that some heard the voters’ message and others are flatly ignoring it. The House of Representatives took decisive action and passed a bill cutting $61 billion from the status quo. President Obama and his Senate allies insist on irresponsibly choosing to do practically nothing.

Indeed, to force Americans into accepting the spending habits that have led to the crisis we face, liberals and their interest groups are trying to scare us with visions of a “government shutdown” that will deprive us of government services.

Do not buy any of this. What they seek is clear—to sap the resolve of those in Congress who want to carry out the mandate they were given at the elections: to cut spending and keep America strong.

Liberals have a much different vision of America than we conservatives do. If liberals can win this initial battle over the borrow-and-spend culture of Washington, they believe they can continue spending at reckless levels and force tax hikes to fundamentally transform America. If they win, there is no way we can bequeath to our children and grandchildren the country our forebears left us.

Let’s analyze what is at stake. First, the coming budget showdown stems from the liberals’ refusal to cut a mere 1.6 percent of the $3.8 trillion in federal spending this year; second, a “government shutdown” does not mean what you’ve been hearing; and third, those who counsel “compromise” want to continue on the current course and reverse the election results.

The Senate on Wednesday voted down the bill passed by the House of Representatives—with support from members of both parties—that would cut $61 billion from government spending this year. Even with this cut, spending would still continue to grow due to increases in spending on entitlement programs.

The debate then boils down to this: House Republicans have passed a bill cutting about six days of deficit spending; Senate Democrats have offered to cut the equivalent of a half-day of deficit spending. For the President and the liberals in the Senate to threaten a government shutdown over such a meager first step on the road to fiscal sanity is simply baffling.

No wonder that Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has said President Obama “has failed to lead this debate for spending and cuts.” There is no doubt that if the existing continuing resolution expires and Congress and the President cannot agree on a level of day-to-day spending, we would reach an impasse. But the actual result would be far different from what the scaremongers call a “shutdown.”

What would cease? Well, not the functions of government that most people consider essential, which would continue as they have in past government shutdowns. Social Security checks would arrive; doctors and hospitals would provide medical services to seniors, veterans, and the poor; the mail would be delivered; our troops and national defenses would continue to protect us; law enforcement at our border would continue; protection of life and property would go on as before.

The government would slow down, not shut down.

This government slowdown is then simply one more check and balance built into our system. The “timeout” keeps the vital services of government operating while lawmakers prioritize what we can—and can’t—afford.

Yes, it is true that if the President and the Senate don’t act, some would be affected. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV), for example, bemoans the potential loss of federal funding for a cowboy poetry contest in upper Nevada. President Obama appears determined to throw more taxpayer dollars at NPR, even though one of its executives admits it does not need these federal handouts.

This level of frivolous thinking brings me to my last point: Those who constantly counsel “compromise” really seek to ignore the message that voters sent in the last election. In this business-as-usual coalition, you will find public-sector unions and the full array of liberal interest groups who profit from the endless and outrageous growth of government.

Those who were on the winning side of the November 2 elections should have no illusions about what is at stake, what the American people expect of them, and the consequences of shirking their responsibility. This is only the first skirmish in an epic battle to put America back on a path toward national solvency and federal responsibility. If we cannot trim a meager 2 percent from this year’s budget, what signal does that send to credit markets? What does that say to future generations who will pay for Washington’s lack of courage?

This is about much more than cutting $61 billion; it is the opening salvo in the battle to change the culture of Washington. Liberals know that if Americans see Washington act responsibly and courageously now, they will come to expect responsibility and courage as the norm.

Conservatives must not be scared into believing that we should accept business as usual in order to save us from a looming slow down.

It is time for our leaders to lead. The Members of the House have made clear they are prepared to accept the challenge. Help us in our educational mission; join our fight. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid must follow the House’s example and cut spending without compromising national security. Otherwise we will only get continued delays and inadequate short-term spending resolutions.

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D., President, The Heritage Foundation

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