The House Republicans’ new strategy of delinking the debt ceiling from entitlement reform and spending restraint is going remarkably well, considering there was much grumbling that the no budget/no pay idea was too trivial and that the GOP was only prolonging its agony.
In fact, the GOP shed the charge that it was risking default. It made House Democrats look silly when 111 of them voted against the no budget/no pay extension even while the White House and Senate Democrats approved the idea. Do House Dems want to get paid for not doing their job?
Meanwhile, the GOP move largely united what had been a very splintered conference. Unlike the disastrous “Plan B” vote during the fiscal cliff crisis, this time 199 Republicans were on board, with only 33 opposing.
Moreover, the Senate now insists that it was going to do a budget all along! Hmm. Well, this should be interesting. Red state Democrats will be asked, I suppose, to vote on massive new tax hikes and more domestic spending. Who among the Dems will vote for entitlement reform, or do they all pretend like the president that there is no real debt problem?
This should remind conservatives that the goal here is to further their objectives to the extent possible (spending restraint, tax reform instead of tax hikes, etc.), but to do so in a way that puts the spotlight on the Dems’ irresponsibility. In devising the no budget/no pay maneuver, House Republicans achieved both sides of the equation.
Step two is to present a House budget that is credible. I’m skeptical as to how a budget aimed to balance the budget in just 10 years will avoid being demonized (draconian! Social Darwinism!). But if they do not overreach and can satisfy the public that cuts are being directed at those most able to bear them (e.g. eliminating corporate welfare and means testing Medicare) and there is a good measure of reform (no bank slush funds, no green energy boondoggles) they may add to their successes.
Indeed, as The Post editorial board wrote, the move to extend the debt ceiling coupled with the deal on the fiscal cliff leave the Republicans looking far more reasonable:
Mr. Obama must distinguish between the Republicans’ unreasonable positions and their reasonable ones. Refusing to consider tax increases and holding the debt ceiling hostage were examples of the former; both have now been significantly modified, if not abandoned.
Insisting on serious reforms to entitlement programs, however, was the GOP’s reasonable demand, one the Republicans have not abandoned. This presents Mr. Obama with a choice: He can continue driving a hard bargain, in both political and policy terms. . . . Or the president could act on his past promises to tackle entitlements and engage in good faith with Republicans now, so that they have no further reason to exploit the sequester or threaten a shutdown.
Suggesting as the president did in his inaugural address that he’s not going to consider nontrivial entitlement reform now puts him in the position of appearing intransigent and irresponsible. When is the last time House Republicans had turned the tables so successfully?
Most of all, Republicans have shown that refusing to attempt to reach backdoor deals with the White House and instead legislating by regular order can pay dividends. That, and behaving like people who want to solve problems and not blow up the building, they surely need to keep up.