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Boehner’s Fiscal Long Game

House Republicans are in a bind. They control the chamber of Congress in which all tax and spending bills originate, giving them some responsibility for the nation’s fiscal policy. But Democrats hold the White House and Senate, meaning that the GOP’s ideas on taxes and spending won’t actually get very far.

John Boehner’s battalions were supposed to fight an epic battle with President Barack Obama over spending during the fiscal cliff negotiations. That was a big part of the point of the cliff in the first place, to impose deficit reduction on a balky Congress. Instead they voted to delay the automatic spending cuts by months and extend more than 80 percent of the Bush tax cuts.

Having decided they had no leverage in the fiscal cliff battle, House Republicans vowed to fight instead over the debt ceiling increase. The GOP was committed to the idea that additional borrowing authority should be matched dollar-for-dollar by spending cuts, making a higher debt limit less of a blank check. Last week, House Republicans instead passed a three-month extension of the debt ceiling with no spending cuts but some promises to revisit spending in May.

Naturally, many conservatives feel they are being played. Spending cuts always come later. When the GOP is out of power, they must wait until they have won the next election to address the size of government. When Republicans are in power, they must not do anything to the budget that might make spending-addicted voters throw them out.

Thirty-three Republicans voted against [1] Boehner’s latest budgetary gambit, describing it as another Washington game of “kick the can.” The national debt is zooming past $16 trillion, the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare are growing, deficits mount, all with no end in sight.

These rebellious Tea Partiers have correctly diagnosed the nation’s fiscal problems, but their recommended cures have no chance of becoming law under the political circumstances that will prevail until at least 2015, and probably 2017. Even if Republicans retake the Senate in next year’s midterm elections, Obama isn’t likely to embrace austerity.

Republicans have managed to make fiscal responsibility look irresponsible. A government shutdown might not be the end of the world. There’s a case to be made that the feds could also function without borrowing power and not default. But these possibilities are very unsettling in an economy with enough uncertainty, and while the House GOP has tried to wield them as leverage to extract spending concessions most people just don’t take the threats seriously.

Democrats and the president get to pose as responsible bill-payers (even though they are just putting more on the country’s tab) while the Republicans are ideologically crazed “hostage takers” risking downgrade and default. Then at the last minute, the House caves in exchange for modest concessions, enraging its remaining conservative supporters.


So the Republican leadership is finally trying to change this political equation. They have shifted the spending fight from the debt ceiling to the sequester and continuing resolution. They are withholding congressional paychecks if lawmakers can’t produce a budget, something the Democratic Senate has failed to do since 2009 [2]. And they are committed to balancing the budget in ten years, at least seven years earlier than the last House spending blueprint.

Republicans are betting that the American people will be more receptive to “No Budget, No Pay” than a spending debate that occurs against the backdrop of default rumors. The House leadership also thinks Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a less sympathetic sparring partner than Obama. The sequester, like the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, is something already baked into current law, giving them additional leverage.

By proposing to balance the budget more quickly and standing by the dollar amount of the sequester (while remaining open to negotiating the exact composition of the cuts), the leadership won over many House conservatives. The Republican Study Committee’s chairman and three of his predecessors backed the legislation. So did two members of Justin Amash’s Liberty Caucus, Raul Labrador and Kerry Bentivolio.

“We can’t get rattled,” Paul Ryan explained [3] at the National Review Institute summit over the weekend. “We won’t play villain in [Obama’s] morality play.” That’s as good a description as any of the role the GOP has played until now, one they cannot afford to reprise.

Time will tell whether this is another in a long line of Republican surrenders or a clever tactical withdrawal.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Boehner’s Fiscal Long Game"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 28, 2013 @ 10:03 am

The repiublicans are playing villains because they want to. Conservatives lost the Presidency and apparently they lost their ____ as well.

At every turn it’s some reason why they can’t contend the logic and sound fiscal management —-

And as for Ryan, just head to the border and tear down the darn fence and remove border stations. Sounding quite like a ‘weak sister’.

#2 Comment By Franklin Paisley On January 28, 2013 @ 10:35 am

Does anyone seriously think that if the GOP controlled every branch of the government that it would use the opportunity to slash entitlement spending? The last time it had such power Medicare Part D was put on the credit card.

#3 Comment By Majumder On January 28, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

Republicans are betting, in a moribund economy, winning the Senate in 2014 and winning the White House in 2016.

Due to the demographic changes from chain immigration and amnesty of over 40 million new voters, both outcomes are unlikely.

Democrats know that Republicans are not against spending to the extent of shutting down ever-increasing size of government, no matter what Republicans say in public.

If Republicans were truly interested in “Spending Cuts” and reducing the size of government, they could have easily done so by going over the proverbial “Fiscal Cliff” in January and fairly and squarely putting the entire blame of over-spending on Democrats.

So, we will be in this current ride of meaningless rhetoric of “Spending Cuts” from the Republicans much longer than what many of us do not want.

#4 Comment By William Dalton On January 28, 2013 @ 10:59 pm

I would call your attention to Article I, Section 6, of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States”; and Amendment 27 to the U.S. Constitution, which states, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

This bill, making Congressional salaries contingent upon passing a Budget, is blowing smoke. The Constitution does not allow Congress not to pay its members a salary, and if it did, such a law couldn’t take effect until after the next Congressional election.

I wish these cowardly cretins would stop presuming upon credulity of the American people.

#5 Comment By Dakarian On January 29, 2013 @ 10:25 am


“If Republicans were truly interested in “Spending Cuts” and reducing the size of government, they could have easily done so by going over the proverbial “Fiscal Cliff” in January and fairly and squarely putting the entire blame of over-spending on Democrats.”

It’s THIS mentality: of having the public be hurt then pointing the finger and saying “he did it” which is WHY Republicans are deemed ‘the villains’. Seriously, it’s:

“With this, the entire NATION will plunge into a economic DRAIN! There will be famine, despair, maybe even riots!

And then, they will turn on their ‘Heros’. Then I, Republican Party, will take over! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA”

(make sure to read it as a Mad Scientist for best effect)

I’m, again, serious. That’s how you sound talking like this.

Note that this is different from the folks who feel that nothing will happen if the ‘crisis’ happens, or even those that DO feel it will hurt but ‘it has to hurt if it’s to heal’. Those people feel that they are helping the country with their actions even if no one believes them.

But ‘do this then blame the D’ shows that you are actively aiming for something that will hurt and want it to happen for political points.

So please, drop it. If you really give up, there’s the “D’s won, let them run things, sink or swim and have the public decide” option. I don’t like it, but it’s a viable choice. But don’t PLAN for this sort of thing.

(Besides, the public was already ready to blame Republicans for the cliff. ‘point the finger’ didn’t work for the recession and it won’t work now)

@The article

While it IS a ‘kick the can’ what they did, it can also be a chess move. The cliff was overwhelmed with talk of taxes. Playing ‘chicken’ with the country is a losing game, especially if real damage (another downgrade) occurs. The sequestration, though, is the time that Republicans can do what Obama did in December (note I wasn’t against what he did then, and I’m not against what the R can do here).

Go in guns blazing. Offer some carrot but DO get what you need. Don’t walk away and keep fighting, but don’t cave. If you succeed, you get real cuts at the price of a few carrot offerings. If no deal is made big cuts happen anyway and, chances are, the Ds will be scrambling to ‘reverse’ the sequestration and be desperate for a bill.

And if no bill comes at all. Don’t point fingers, and just move on.

Still sad that we can’t have a REAL budget discussion (imagine a regular family acting like the D’s and R’s) but, oh well.

#6 Comment By LaurelhurstLiberal On January 29, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

I think the Republicans in the House may have outsmarted themselves. They’ve committed to a budget that eliminates the deficit in 10 years, but the math says that the only way to do that is drastic cuts — and if you don’t cut defense, you have to cut entitlements and discretionary spending even deeper. The proposed whopping cuts to Medicare and Social Security will become the stuff of a thousand political ads in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Senate is going to develop a milkwater budget that can be spun positively by Dems and negatively by Republicans — nothing good for the Senate, to be sure, but not the political disaster that Ryan et al have promised to deliver.

#7 Comment By Tom B. On January 31, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

A “debt ceiling increase” is just exactly what this administration got with the three-month extension of the debt ceiling with no spending cuts.
Recent House Votes
Short-Term Suspension of Debt Limit – Final Passage – Vote Passed (285-144, 3 Not Voting)

The House temporarily defused a looming crisis over the debt limit last by passing a bill that, rather than raising the limit – that is, setting a new cap on the federal government’s borrowing authority – actually suspends it – meaning there technically is no limit – until May 19, at which point the limit would be reset at a new, higher level, to reflect government borrowing activity in the interim period. In addition, the bill would institute an enforcement mechanism for each house of Congress to pass a FY 2014 budget resolution. Beginning April 15, if a chamber has not passed a budget, that chamber’s members would not receive their paychecks. This would carry on until the earlier of passage of a budget or the last day of the 113th Congress. Though House Democrats mostly decried the bill as a gimmick, President Obama has stated he will sign the bill if it reaches him.
As far as tthe “No budget No pay” segment of this bill; Isn’t going to happen, because that would take an amendment to the US Constitution. Article I Sec. 6 states the Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services… To decline to pay members for not designing a budget is unconstitutional. So at the end of the extension this will be struck down, there’ll be no budget and the unlimited spending will continue on. The dumb-azzes in the GOP have been duped again and the American Tax Payer gets the un- lubricated shaft one more time.