Tim Pawlenty: Time to close the open bar in Washington – Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010

Tim Pawlenty: Time to close the open bar in Washington – Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010

Tim Pawlenty: Time to close the open bar in Washington


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One of the key lessons from this year’s historic elections is that Americans understand that nothing is truly free. It’s a basic, common-sense principle. The broad message was that as a nation, we cannot endlessly spend money we don’t have, pretending that somehow the bill will magically disappear.

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It was a first, important step in returning our country to both reality and responsibility. The American people wisely said they’ve had enough of liberal, unsustainable spending. Taxpayers know that the money the government spends is our money. It belongs to the people, and eventually the bill comes due. And Americans know from experience that we all behave differently when we’re spending our own money, not “someone else’s money.”

For example, most of us have attended weddings, some with open bars, and some with cash bars. Behavior predictably is different depending on whether people are drinking for “free” or not. Guests presented with options at a cash bar typically will pause and think about what they would like to consume, how much they would like to consume, and how much it will cost. The money they spend is their own, and they tend, for the most part, to make reasonable and rational choices.

Now consider an open bar. Guests tend to consume almost endlessly (we’ve all seen it), with no regard for cost, much less the volume of consumption. People at an open bar are more likely to embarrass themselves, not to mention bankrupt the father of the bride.

Washington, D.C., has essentially become an open bar affair: Congress hands out “free stuff” without concern for the bill. We’ve seen bailouts for big banks and car companies, “cash for clunkers,” and mortgages for all. The Democrats passed a “stimulus” that only made the deficit bigger, while they did nothing to reform entitlement programs.

In a great country song, Garth Brooks sings, “long neck bottle, let go of my hand.” The current mess we’re in is not someone else’s fault. The solution is in our hands.

It starts by cutting spending and limiting government. There should be no illusion: we cannot dig ourselves out of the enormous fiscal hole we’re in only by making easy cuts to waste, fraud and abuse. We must set priorities and make the tough choices necessary to restore balance.

Lobbyists, public-employee unions and special interests will fight every change. They’ll insist that every program is sacred, every cut is too deep, and every reform will fail. But they’re wrong.

The story in my state of Minnesota is instructive. In the four decades before I was elected governor, Minnesota’s biennial budget increased an average of about 21 percent — the same rate that the federal budget grew during President Obama’s first two years in the White House. But under my watch, we cut that rate of growth down to less than 2 percent annually. Last year, we cut the 2-year budget in real terms for the first time in Minnesota’s 150-year history.

It wasn’t easy, especially in such a historically liberal state, but we proved it was possible to cut spending.

For example, when it came to state employees and their health care, we gave individuals more freedom and responsibility to decide how to spend their own money. What does that mean? To reverse the trend of soaring health care costs in Minnesota, we gave our state employees financial incentives to select high-quality, low-cost health care. With some of their own skin in the game, the vast majority of employees chose more efficient providers. As a result, over the last five years we’ve seen low, and in some years no, premium increases.

Contrast that with President Obama’s approach to health care reform. It drags health care into Washington, D.C., expanding bureaucracy, mandates, entitlements and government subsidies. It does nothing to control costs. And once again, the government will serve up the allure of endless consumption and a magically disappearing bill. But we know nothing is truly free.

The new House of Representatives should make repeal of ObamaCare a top priority. And as I did in Minnesota, newly elected governors around the country should refuse to embrace it and join lawsuits to overturn it.

The open-bar mentality in Washington D.C. needs to stop, immediately.

On Election Day, Americans said they want a return to common sense. They want reduced, redesigned and responsible government. It’s well past closing time, and the federal government needs to sober up.

Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, is the governor of Minnesota.