Facing Shutdown, GOP Goes Soft
What a difference half a year makes.


For the second time this year, a government shutdown has been narrowly avoided. But while the spring battle over a continuing resolution was, in the end, a worthwhile exercise that demonstrated the intransigence of Senate Democrats in controlling our budget, this fall’s skirmish achieved little. The reason: House Republicans declined to stake out as strong a position as they had on H.R. 1.

The heated climate and gridlock that have overcome Washington this year are due to the simple fact that there are now three political forces in Congress: liberals, who want to continue expanding government en route to making America look more like Europe; conservatives, who want to end the status quo in Washington and return our country to its constitutional roots; and the establishment, which seeks to preserve a status quo that has become incredibly lucrative for politicians, lobbyists, Big Business, Big Labor, and the rest of the country’s elite.

Because the establishment and liberals share a common enemy — conservatives — they often work in tandem to avoid derailing the Washington status quo, which is an inexorable march toward more centralization of power in the federal government.

But last spring, for a brief moment, the unholy alliance of the establishment and liberals stopped dead in its tracks. House conservatives won a fight in the Republican caucus to seize the moral high ground with strong spending cuts in a continuing resolution to fund the government through September 30.

H.R. 1 cut $61 billion from discretionary spending and also included important policy riders, such as one that would have created jobs by restricting the EPA’s global-warming agenda and another to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood.

The ultimate losers of last spring’s showdown were Harry Reid and his obstructionist colleagues in the Senate. With the House calling for $61 billion in cuts out of a $1.6 trillion deficit, Reid was left defending the indefensible — calling it “mean spirited” to eliminate the small federal contribution to Nevada’s annual Cowboy Poetry Festival.

To be sure, there were arguments between conservatives and the Republican leadership in the House. Many of us disagreed with a strategy of repeated short-term continuing resolutions that let the Senate off the hook in making counter-proposals to the cuts sought by the House.

And yes, the House Republican leadership had to be dragged kicking and screaming into defending H.R. 1, but they fought nonetheless.

At the end of the day, the fight was between a House that was going big to save the country and a Senate that played small ball by insisting that any cuts were “mean-spirited” and “draconian.”

This was an example of Republicans painting in bold colors, rather than pale pastels, and this is precisely the kind of contrast that’s needed for Republicans to be successful in the 2012 elections. Americans intuitively understand that the country is at a tipping point: Our current path leads toward fiscal ruin.

Fast forward to today when Republicans were presented with another opportunity to take the high ground and change the status quo in Washington. Rank-and-file House conservatives and outside activists wanted this month’s CR to pass the House at the levels established in the House budget. This would have set up a similar showdown with a Senate majority that has to this day refused to present a budget.

Instead, the House caved on sticking to its budget. Instead, the fight was over a few billion dollars in the amount of disaster funding and a $1 billion disagreement over whether to offset some of this funding. This fight did a disservice to the stark ideological differences between House conservatives and Senate Democrats.

Many people in Washington will tell you good policy makes good politics. Far fewer people believe it, even as it lies at the core of the constitutional enthusiasm sweeping across our country. That enthusiasm was at the heart of the 2010 election (and, for that matter, the 2006 election, which swept away a Republican majority totally unhinged from its principles).

Republicans were not put back in control of the House this year in order to avoid disruptions in governance and run out the clock until the 2012 elections. To the contrary, Americans say repeatedly in poll after poll that they are fed up with the way Washington works and want drastic change.

Last spring, Americans saw what a fight for change in Washington actually looks like. Politicians who are afraid of change will always avoid the fight. Those who want to regain the trust of the American people ought to seek them out.

— Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America and Tim Chapman is the chief operating officer of Heritage Action for America.


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