Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are ready to break a hard-fought budget deal with Democrats as they try to quell a revolt by conservatives who are insisting on deeper spending cuts ahead of the November elections.
The original August 2011 deal that resolved the debt ceiling impasse called for a $1 trillion limit on discretionary spending for fiscal 2013. House conservatives want much deeper cuts. House GOP leaders are offering a compromise that would include some cuts, but not enough for the Tea Partyers, and Dems are vowing to reject anything that breaks the original deal.
Republicans will justify breaking the deal by arguing that the original compromise only set a cap on spending, which is to say an upper limit, meaning there’s nothing preventing spending from being cut further. But Dems and the White House will argue that even Mitch McConnell himself recently acknowledged that what was actually agreed upon were “discretionary spending levels.” Eric Cantor also has described the deal as one that set a “level of spending.”
Get ready for a rerun of a very bad movie. We’re hurtling towards another government shutdown fight, in which the House GOP leadership will be dealing with a Tea Party wing that prioritizes shrinking government above all else — this time, in the leadup to the elections.
The original debt ceiling fight was a debacle for both parties. But since then, House Republicans took more lumps in the payroll tax cut fight, and overall, the skirmishes of the past year may have taken a greater toll on them. Some polls show House GOP ratings lower than those of Dems and others find the public heaps more blame on Republicans for Congressional gridlock.
Now we may be seeing a reprise of the same dynamic. One question is whether this could spill over into the presidential race. Dems will be working hard to prevent Mitt Romney from achieving separation from the House GOP, arguing that the Dem emphasis on a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts, along with more public investment to keep the recovery going, is far more balanced than the Romney/House Tea Party emphasis on gutting government at all costs.
In this sense, another government shutdown fight could help Dems sharpen the contrast with the GOP and Romney over the two parties’ values and priorities. A new Bloomberg poll finds that 51 percent say government spending on infrastructure, education and alternative energy is a better way to grow the economy, while only 41 percent favor more spending and tax cuts.
On the other hand, maybe this will all help Romney. After all, more deep spending cuts sought by conservatives could imperil the recovery, which could weaken Obama and help Romney’s case against his reelection. Perverse, perhaps, but very possible.