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Russ Feingold's Addiction to Spending

feingold spendingElections and Self-Promoting Politicians

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.

Is Feingold an Independent or a Hard Core Liberal

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., 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.)

graph demonstrating feingold's liberalism


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.

Russ Feingold's Spending Record

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.

An Evaluation of Feingold's Spending

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.

Comments (8)
  • SR

    Russ Feingold is not only independent of the core Democratic Party, he is a self proclaimed progressive; a far more devious specimen of the liberal block. He proudly touts this to those who attend his listening sessions using it to correct those who refer to him as democratic or liberal. His record and spending reflect what he truly is and his socialist tendencies.

    Word here in Wisconsin is that he that Tommy Thompson may run against him and projections are that Feingold will soundly lose. There is a God. I am throwing my efforts into convincing Thompson to run; it would be a huge move in the right direction for Wisconsin; that and replacing Doyle with Scott Walker.

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez

    But news on the street (MJS) is that Thompson just signed on to a private equity fund's advisory board. This has the MJS speculating that he will not run for the Senate seat.

  • thetruthteller  - Check Your Facts

    You may want to check your facts next time. Feingold voted NAY on the omnibus spending bill and TARP. Does Paul Ryan have an addiction to spending? Because Ryan DID vote for TARP and that costly and unnecessary war in Iraq. Feingold also returns his automatic pay raise to the Federal Treasury each year. Not to mention Republicans dropped Pay-Go during the Bush administration and Feingold worked with Judd Gregg to try to restore it. And as far as Big Spender Tommy Thompson goes, you may want to check what financial shape he left the State in 2001.

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez  - My apologies

    I mistakenly confused the omnibus bill for the recovery act, which passed in February. The omnibus bill was later. Consider it fixed.

    Concerning Ryan, however, he voted for the TARP because he believed that some banks were TBTF. And there are also experts in the field that believe that some of these banks were significant participants in several capital markets, and thus there existed a potential to pose a system risk to the market if they didn't have access to a cash flow. I won't hang Ryan for a stand-alone vote for a spending bill.

    However, Feingold has a lengthy history of spending. And someone ought not to act like they are a fiscal conservative when they spend money as if it belongs to a monopoly board.

  • Jim
    The only time that Feingold is an independent is when he's so far left ideologically that he finds himself voting against both parties.

    Can you offer an example or are you expecting us to take you at your word?

    And really, the stimulus has not created any jobs? The job outlook given by the economists assumes the stimulus as a given because it exists. They never looked at the possibility of no stimulus. The conclusions people have drawn from this MJS article drive me crazy.

    The government's massive stimulus programs probably saved more jobs than they created, said Strauss, a member of the committee that conducts the survey.

    That very statement acknowledges jobs were created. No one ever claimed that the stimulus would result in the immediate recovery of the economy. Yet 69% of economists surveyed believe there was NO impact? I'd like to know exactly who was surveyed.

    As far as $34 billion for homeland security, do I have this right? A conservative being anti-homeland security? ANYONE being anti-homeland security? That was money that had to be spent. As for the debt ceiling? A necessity given the state of the economy.

    Ah, I'm done, but one more thing. Remember when Republicans turned the surpluses of the 90's into the huge deficit Obama inherited?

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez

    First, an example of Feingold's independence was his vote against the Patriot Act, not to mention a number of bills that fund Military expenditures.

    Second, We need to make distinctions between two sorts of jobs: Public sector and private sector. Within the context of an economic contraction, public sector jobs will not create wealth, nor will it grow GDP. The sort of jobs economists are talking about are those that expand the output of the private sector.

    Did the stimulus create an impact on the economy? If the answer is yes, then I would say the impact was so small that it wouldn't be practical to mention it.

    Third, I am not against spending on Homeland Security. In my opinion, protection from foreign forces is among the most ancient and essential duties the government has to her citizenry.

    I make mention of it simply for contextual reasons. When we talk about a person who has problems controlling their spending, we don't just look that the purchases we tend to dislike or disagree with, but we must look at the entire picture. I happen to think that Feingold made a good choice with supporting that spending.

    Perhaps I will address your last assertion when I have more time tomorrow.

  • Jim

    What is the point of bringing up money well spent? Being a fiscally conservative doesn't mean saying "no" to everything that costs money. It means spending money on worthy programs (homeland security) not wasting money (illustrated in proposed cuts from Control Spending Now Act.) Bringing up that vote to accuse Feingold of being spend-happy was absolute horseshit, no way around it, and no way to say it any nicer.

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez


    There is no way about it? Sounds like your mind is closed.

    The issue here is that the money Congress plays with is not fake money from a monopoly game. We need to look at the totality of spending in order to get a better idea of how much a particular representative spends, whether for the good or for the bad.

    Excessive Spending in Congress is bad precisely because taxpayers are stuck with the bill. This means, of course, that we have to be selective with our spending.

    So if Feingold chooses to spend trillions of our money on foolish stuff, then it makes him look less credible when he wants to spend billions on the right stuff, correct.

    For example, my wife just so happens to do the family budgeting. If I clear out the bank account on foolish stuff, when it comes to making a purchase on important stuff, she will be less willing to give her approval on the purchase for the important stuff. In fact, she may get bitter when I buy important things precisely because I have not prioritized my spending in the past.

    In many ways, she is like the taxpayer that is trying to hold me accountable no matter what I choose to spend money on whether legitimized or not.

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