It’s time for John Boehner to start thinking about how to declare victory in the budget wars and get his fellow Republicans to go along with it.
The truth is that House Republicans are very close to a substantive win in the FY 2011 budget fight, and almost certainly can get one — if they’re willing to take Yes for an answer. After all, by all accounts Democrats are willing to go along with around $30 billion in spending cuts over the remainder of the fiscal year. As it happens, that matches the original opening bid that Boehner first floated, before the Tea Party pushed him to pursue far deeper cuts. Dems are even apparently willing to try to accommodate some GOP concerns on policy riders.
The problem is that this would be a “win” only by the standards of incrementalism -- a disappointing, barely-worth-passing, sell-out of a compromise. And that’s a problem, because to Tea Partyers, incrementalism and compromise sounds a lot like Washington business-as-usual.
Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, there’s going to have to be an agreement that wins the votes of at least a large number of Senate Democrats and the signature of Barack Obama. But no matter how good a deal it might be on the substance for conservatives, many Tea Partiers are going to believe that they’ve been sold out. Why? Because Barack Obama is going to sign the deal, and that alone will constitute proof of a sellout in the eyes of the Tea Party.
So what Boehner has to do is to convince Republican Members of the House that the hit they’re going to take from the right for compromising is inevitable. They’ll be seen as sellouts if they cut a deal before a shutdown. They’ll be seen as sellouts if they cut a deal after a six week shutdown. True believers will always be convinced that complete and total victory was just a week away if only the cowardly politicians had been willing to hang in there. They can’t win that game.
Where they can win, at least quite a bit, is on substance. What that will require, however, is for Republicans to choose achievable goals. That means the Speaker should pick his bottom line, choose some priorities (is it deficit reduction? General spending cuts? Specific program cuts? Policy riders?) and get the conference to back him on it. In other words, if to govern is to choose, as the cliché has it, then it’s really time for him to do some governing. Right now.
Otherwise, Boehner is going to get just what he’s been trying to avoid the whole time: a long government shutdown that will most likely be blamed on the Republicans, and that will most likely cost the Speaker his job. There’s still time for him to avoid it, but unfortunately for Boehner there doesn’t seem to be very much interest on his side of the aisle in doing the hard work of making serious governing choices. And the shutdown clock is ticking away.