In for a dime, in for a dollar. Or, in this case, $260 billion. That’s the amount of spending cuts in a bill Paul Ryan and House Republicans are preparing today for floor action later this week. The bill is meant to avert the deep cuts in defense spending mandated by the failure of the deficit supercommittee. But more broadly, this is the continuation of a fascinating gamble.
Here’s the story. If Congress doesn’t act, across-the-board cuts required by the supercommittee go into effect in January 2013 — cuts to both the Pentagon and domestic programs that both parties find unacceptable. There’s general agreement that the earliest Congress will agree on how to prevent those cuts will be in a lame duck session after the election. And yet what the two parties are doing about this fact couldn’t be more different.
The Democrats, who prefer smaller cuts paired with tax increases on upper-income taxpayers, have been in no hurry at all to advance that agenda in actual legislative terms. Senate Dems, as Republicans will shout until they’re blue in the face, did not pass a budget resolution this year. House Democrats, too, are reported to be leaning against offering an alternative to this new GOPbill.
By contrast, Republicans are holding vote after vote on their agenda — voting on unpopular measures that are the stuff of opposition researchers’ dreams, even though those bills are going nowhere. The measure they’ll be dealing with in later this week, if they stick to plans, slashes (among other things) “food stamps, funding for the 2010 healthcare and financial regulatory laws and the refundable child tax credit.”
Republicans appear to be taking these votes in order to give their Members a chance to go on record in favor of deep spending cuts before the real negotiations between the parties on averting the supercommittee-mandated cuts start in earnest. The only votes Dems are taking are against GOP initiatives. That may seem cowardly, but it’s also quite sensible, since anything they propose isn’t going anywhere, and those future talks will decide what really happens.
The real mystery is why Republicans are constantly voting on bills containing unpopular provisions (attacking the child tax credit???), especially since these votes are merely symbolic. It’s possible that it’s because they believe their own rhetoric and mistakenly believe voters will reward them for “courage.” It’s possible that inexperienced Members simply trust Ryan, and that he doesn’t think his agenda is unpopular. But whatever the motive, it’s hard to see what the House GOP is up to as anything other than a repeated unforced error that Democrats will likely exploit during the fall campaign.