Yesterday, it was announced that John Boehner and Harry Reid had reached an early agreement on the FY 2013 budget in order to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. Pursuant to the agreement, both chambers will vote on a 6-month continuing resolution after returning from the August recess in September. The CR will provide spending for discretionary programs set at the $1.047 trillion level agreed upon in last year’s debt ceiling agreement instead of the $1.028 trillion figure prescribed in the House-passed budget. It will also continue funding for Obamacare.
On the surface, this might seem like the capitulation of all capitulations by Republican leadership. After all, we’ve spent a year vowing not to jettison our budget in favor of the hideous debt ceiling agreement that is preferred by those who arrogantly refuse to pass a budget themselves. However, before you all jump on Boehner and McConnell, this plan is actually the brainchild of Senator DeMint, Rep. Jim Jordan, and some other good conservatives.
At the risk of putting words in their mouths, let me first attempt to explain their strategy, and then articulate some concerns that must be addressed.
Earlier this month, Senator DeMint penned an op-ed with Senators Graham and Johnson calling on leaders of both parties to pass a CR that would fund government into 2013, while “leaving major issues for the newly elected president and Congress.”
There are several motivations behind his strategy. First, these conservatives want to avoid a scenario in which everyone is pressured into supporting a bad piece of legislation – perhaps a massive omnibus bill that contains new policies – under the duress of beating the clock in September. Republicans tend to capitulate when pressured for time, especially with the major elections looming just 5-6 weeks later. While DeMint would love to have a fight about Obamacare and spending right before the election, he recognizes that leadership will either shirk from the fight or bungle it, leaving us incorrigibly humiliated. It’s better to defer the fight than prosecute it poorly.
Second, he wants to avoid a lame duck session, which is notorious for GOP capitulations. In 2010, Republicans (many of whom were on their way out the door) agreed to pass the START treaty, a massive FDA food takeover, repealed don’t ask don’t tell, and agreed to a tax extenders deal that undercut their superior leverage, setting us up for future problems that we are still dealing with today. By kicking the budget fight into 2013, we will avoid a scenario in which the budget bill is used as a vehicle to pass other bad legislation, most notably, a bad tax extender deal. It will also give us the leverage to shut down the lame duck session altogether, and preclude the Senate from passing bad treaties.
Third, and most obvious of all, they are hoping that we win back all branches of government next year. All things equal, it’s better to wait until 2013 to make all the important decision, so we’ll have more power and leverage.
- Shutting Down Lame Duck: The overarching justification of this decision by conservatives was to shut down the lame duck session and preclude even worse capitulations. Yet, conservative supporters of this agreement must remember: there is no parallel agreement from Reid or Boehner to shut down the lame duck session upon passage of the CR. It’s not written into the law either. Although this would take one issue off the agenda, we still have the sequester and tax cliffs that can easily be used to pass bad long-term legislation in the lame duck – the very purpose for embarking on this CR compromise to begin with. It’s kind of like capitulating now in order to avoid a capitulation in the lame duck – and then, ultimately, failing to shut down the lame duck.
- Obamacare: Even if we believe that we’ll win back all levers of power in 2013 and have the guts to fight Obamacare then more than now, the timing of this strategy is awful. Over half the House GOP Conference – 127 members – signed a letter urging Speaker Boehner not to bring any bill before the House floor that contains funding for Obamacare. Now, many of our most conservative members are agreeing to this “kick it to 2013” strategy. This completely deracinates the unified message and obviates the potency of any similar initiative in the future.
- Tea Party Base: While there is definitely some prudence to this strategy of deferment, it’s all inside baseball. Most rank-and-file activists will not ascertain the broader strategy. They won’t even remember who originally conceived it. They will only see a wholesale capitulation on Obamacare funding and spending levels for the second year in a row. They will view us as wasting two years bragging about the Ryan budget and then summarily abrogating it overnight in favor of the dreaded debt deal. They will view this as rewarding those who refused to pass a budget for over 3 years. Have supporters of this strategy considered how the plan will dispirit the base?
We certainly appreciate the efforts of Senator DeMint and other conservatives, and understand that they are not caving on principle. We certainly don’t want a civil war over mere strategy. Moreover, even those of us who want a full-scale fight over Obamacare and the budget now, recognize that there is a lot to like about a plan that will avoid the lame duck and push all the major issues into 2013, when presumably, we’d have more leverage. However, conservative supporters of this strategy must not go on record as supporting the CR before it is written and before all the details of the agreement are finalized. As long as there is no inviolate commitment to 1) scuttle the lame duck and 2) punt all the end-of-year issues (including taxes and sequester) into 2013, there is no rationale or defense for voting for the CR. Also, we must never agree to a preemptive increase of the debt ceiling as a precondition to eliminating the lame duck.
On this day one year ago, 72% of House Republicans voted to give Obama $2.4 trillion in more debt in exchange for a sequestration that they are now trying to undo. It was all done under the false pretense of avoiding a fight at the present in order to “gain points” at some later date. We must not repeat the same mistake. Supporters of this strategy must ensure that all their original goals are met before signing away their sacred principles.