March 5, 2013

Among other things, the fight over sequestration has revealed the extent to which there isn’t a real constituency for policy reform in the GOP. Most Republicans — from elected officials to activists and thinkers — remain committed to the agenda crafted in 2010 and 2011, the one Mitt Romney ran on unsuccessfully in 2012.

Indeed, if anything, congressional Republicans are moving to the right with a new budget — crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan — that seeks to balance the budget in a decade. Here’s The Hill with a few details on a new policy that has inspired discontent for the more moderate members of the House Republican caucus:

House Republican centrists are furious that GOP leaders are considering abandoning their pledge not to change Medicare retirement benefits for people 55 years and older. […]

After agreeing to write a budget resolution that will balance the budget over the next decade, Ryan conceded that he might have to adjust the age to as high as 59…The 2012 measure would have balanced the budget by 2040 — this year’s would do it by 2023, meaning there would be greater spending cuts.

There’s a real question as to whether this budget will include savings from Obamacare and revenue from the fiscal cliff deal. If it does, then Ryan has room for less draconian cuts. But if it doesn’t — if House Republicans still seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act and lower taxes on the wealthy — then this Ryan budget will be as reactionary as the agenda that defined Romney’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency.

It almost goes without saying that a party interested in reforming itself shouldn’t expand its commitment to the same policies that caused it trouble in the first place. In other words, as much as reform is on the tip of conservative tongues, the fact of the matter is that the GOP has no desire to change its substantive priorities.

In fairness, some of this is unavoidable; Republican power is based in the House of Representatives, where individual members aren’t always committed to the health of the national party. Indeed, genuine reform won’t — and probably can’t — come from the congressional wing of the party.

That leaves the fate of reform in the hands of GOP governors. But even they are split between the pragmatic (New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez) and the hyper-ideological (Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback). The hyper-ideological governors have pursued agendas of low taxes, few services, and full scale attacks on reproductive health rights — hardly the stuff of reform.

The GOP remains ideologically hostile towards any new revenues and ideologically committed to anti-government rhetoric. It’s why Republicans refuse to come to the table on sequestration, and it’s why we can expect another stand-off over government funding (and then the debt ceiling) in just a few weeks. And while this has harmed their standing with the public, it’s still an open question as to whether it will derail their chances in next year’s elections. Given the likely demographics of the midterm elections—older, whiter, and more conservative—I doubt it. All of this is to say that, new rhetoric aside, the GOP is still an anti-tax, anti-government party, and it’s likely to remain that way.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.