Facing the Reality of Obamacare, Entitlements, and Budgets

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 and is filed under Blog, Debt, Obamacare

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It’s a done deal.  Republicans in the House will overwhelmingly support a bill (HR 325) today which will suspend the debt limit law until May 19.  The bill will also call on the Senate to pass a budget (not necessarily a balanced budget) by April 15 – with the threat of cutting off pay for a dereliction of this duty, as prescribed by the 1974 Budget Act.

In return for voting for the bill, leadership has verbally promised conservative members that they will stand by the sequester cuts in March (they were going to take effect anyway) and craft a budget that balances in ten years.

Passage of this bill is a fait accompli, and Democrats have signaled that they will support it.  So let’s operate under the assumption that this bill takes effect, and discuss some of the points that will be considered over the next few months.

It is important that conservatives understand what they get from signing onto this and what they will never get.  I hear many friends suggesting that this is a strategic move to fight in March on the CR and the long-term debt limit increase in May, once we craft a budget with entitlement reform to rally behind as a precondition for passing future budget bills and raising the debt ceiling.

Here are some things that need to be considered:

  • The debt ceiling fight in May will be the same old story.  It’s not about the timing of the debt ceiling. They will never use any debt ceiling or CR to engage in brinkmanship the same way Gingrich did do get welfare reform and a balanced budget.  Peirod.  If you subscribe to the notion that we can’t use control of the House to do anything for the next four years, then admit that openly.  But let’s not play this game of “we can’t fight now, but we’ll fight later.”
  • On a related note, Boehner and Ryan might promise to release a 10-year balanced budget, but they have not and will never commit to using any of the leverage points like the CR to fight for it.
  • For those who think that there will be a fight for entitlement reform during the March CR, remember that the CR pertains to FY 2013, while the new House budget, which will contain the entitlement reforms, will pertain to FY 2014.  They will say that FY 2013 is already old news and not worth fighting for.  As noted before, they will not fight in May either because they have made it clear that the debt ceiling is permanently off limits.  That means, at best, they will not fight until September when the FY 2014 budget comes due.
  • They are actually suspending the debt ceiling law, instead of simply increasing the limit under the law.  This strengthens the left wing argument that we should do away with it altogether. Once we agree to suspend it for a few months, why not continue?  Again, not that it matters at this point, as Republicans have already communicated that the debt limit will cease to function as a spending restraint.
  • Forcing the Senate to pass a budget might be a good talking point for a few days, but consider this.  We will now force Senate Republicans to vote for a bill that coerces Democrats to pass a budget that Republicans will be forced to block.  Moreover, Democrats could pass tax increases with just 51 votes and set up reconciliation instructions to do even worse.  Chuck Schumer is embracing the idea for good reason.  Yes, we can block any tax increase in the House, but we have already seen how much leverage Democrats enjoy after bills pass the Senate.

 

There are many good conservatives who earnestly feel that we have no ability to force any reforms with control of only one house of Congress.  I can respect that view, although they would be wise to study the evolution of welfare reform and balanced budgets in the ‘90s.  However, those who think we can fight for reforms by using leverage points in the budget process, and plan to do so, need to think long and hard whether the current agreement will lock in that commitment from leadership.

If conservatives really desire to use this temporary debt increase to regroup and unite behind entitlement reform, they should fulfill their promise to block any CR that contains funding for Obamacare.  Let’s confront a reality: entitlement reform is mostly about free market healthcare reforms, most notably, restructuring Medicare and Medicaid.  Yet, we will never have the ability to change these 50-year-old programs until we disrupt the new behemoth from taking root.  When fully enacted, Obamacare will take over 1/6 of our economy, create permanent dependency for tens of millions of Americans, induce unsustainable inflationary pressure on the cost of healthcare and health insurance, and saddle the next generation with crippling debt.

Hence, there is no entitlement reform without quashing Obamacare.  There will be no balanced budget as long as Obamacare is still on the books.  If you are one who feels that Obamacare is here to stay as a result of the elections, then stop talking about entitlement reform and balanced budgets.

Last year, 127 members of the House signed a letter pledging to oppose any appropriation bill that contains funding for Obamacare.  105 of those members are still in the House (download here).  The full copy of the letter can be viewed here .  On the very day this letter was finalized, conservatives agreed to suspend the policy and sign onto the FY 2013 CR, which funded Obamacare and is set to expire March 28.  They felt that it was worth deferring the fight until 2013, when we were supposed to control all branches of government.  Well, we lost the election.  Now it’s time to fight Obamacare.

Voting to suspend the debt limit is an agonizing choice for conservatives to make.  The least we can do is make it worth its pound of flesh.  Their decisions over the next two months will largely define whether this vote will be judged as a retreat or a real preparation for the future.

You can follow Daniel Horowitz on twitter @ RMConservative

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