Election season is underway, so it's time for incumbent politicians to engage in shameless acts of self-promotion. Now is the time when liberal politicians with foolhardy records of spending suddenly become wise fiscal conservatives just months shy of the November election. Last week, for instance, Russ Feingold's campaign released a statement stressing that Feingold is "an independent and a fiscally conservative voice for Wisconsin." I think anyone who knows Feingold's voting record recognizes the falsity of this claim.
Feingold invests quite a bit of effort conveying a maverick-like persona. He prides himself in being an "independent" - a pioneer of sorts that's not afraid to antagonize his own party if necessary. It appears, however, that his political independence is byproduct of inordinate liberalism, not free thinking.
In late January, Politico released an article floating the possibility of former Governor Tommy Thompson challenging Feingold for his Senate seat. Politco said, "Republicans have so far been unable to recruit a top-tier challenger to take on Feingold, who is one of the body's most liberal Senators."
It's important to highlight that Politico sees Feingold as among the most liberal in the U.S. Senate. And they aren't the only ones to make such claims either. Onetheissues.org, a respected website devoted to assessing the politics of Congress, scored Senator Feingold in the top 90th percentile of Congressional liberals. I believe the term they applied to Feingold was "Hard-Core Liberal". To illustrate this point, please refer to the graph below that plots out, with a red marker, where Feingold is positioned on the political spectrum. (Hint, look to the far left.)
The only time that Feingold is an independent is when he's so far left ideologically that he finds himself voting against both parties. This is not the ordinary understanding of an independent. A true independent is a moderate who is not beholden to the politicking of either party. An independent can vote either Democrat or Republican because he is guided by the dictates of his conscience. Feingold, however, does not vote with the GOP on anything substantive. And therefore, it is misleading for Feingold to characterize himself as an independent.
Let's consider the second claim that Feingold is a fiscal conservative. In the past year, the United States has managed to triple its annual debt through spectacular spending. Some would argue that government spending was necessary to dig our way out of a remarkable recession. And although there is some truth to this claim, Feingold has not made a distinction between necessary and superfluous spending.
Tracking back to February of 2009, Feingold voted for the $787 billion Stimulus Bill - a bill that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel conceded Has not created any jobs. This bill almost accounts for a trillion dollars - a truly staggering number.
In May of 2009, Feingold voted for the 3 billion dollar "Cash for Clunkers" program, which essentially subsidized auto purchases for the middle and upper classes while destroying many of the low-grade vehicles commonly used by low income earners. By taking these "clunkers" off the road, Democrat Senators like Russ Feingold reduced the number of vehicles available to poor communities, thus limiting their modes of transportation.
In October of 2009, Feingold voted for (get ready, this is a long one) the $126 billion Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agency Appropriations. This bill spent inordinate amounts of money on domestic food programs, rural development, and foreign agricultural services.
In the same month, Feingold also voted for the $34.28 billion Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act that funds the protection of our borders, our Coast Guard, our Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and our Secret Service. (Arguably, this one got bi-partisan support.)
And finally, in December of 2009, Senator Feingold voted to expand the national debt limit from $12.1 trillion to $12.39 trillion - a fiscally irresponsible habit that Congress has unfortunately got itself into.
In just what I've tallied up here for 2009, Feingold personally voted to spend more than $1,360,280,000,000, which also includes the expansion of the national debt limit. And the staggering 1.3 trillion doesn't include Feingold's votes on bills that had expanded pre-existing government programs.
Another interesting bit is that the non-partisan National Tax Union gave Senator Feingold a score of 17 out of 100 based upon his record of spending. According to the NTU, the higher the score, the more effort the representative invested into protecting the taxpayer. The NTU also states that representatives can vote for spending bills and still score well as long as they seek alternative ways to reduce costs by cutting somewhere else.
According to the NTU, Feingold is among the worst spenders in Congress. He is worse than east and west coast liberals like Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, and Barney Frank. The NTU also has him tied with Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid. With a voting record like this and a bottom rung score from the NTU, how can Feingold's campaign talk like they are fiscal conservatives? Either Feingold has a very good explanation for these inconsistencies, or he thinks that Wisconsin citizens are uninformed. One thing seems fairly certain. Russ Feingold is not a fiscal conservative.