Andy, you are correct to say that $40 billion in spending cuts is a mere “half-pittance” in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think there’s any disagreement there. But I would argue that the actual number is less relevant than the question of who has the political advantage heading into the much larger fights over the debt limit and the Ryan budget. And when I see Harry Reid and Barack Obama boasting about how much spending they have just agreed to cut, I am inclined to view that as a considerable political achievement for Republicans, from which to build on moving forward.
I am also thoroughly unconvinced by the notion that somehow Republicans “blinked” by cutting a deal rather than shutting the government down. From what I can tell, there are two assumptions behind this line of thinking. One is that Republicans could have won a better deal, could have gotten more of what they wanted, refusing to move an inch off their original $61 billion and allowing the government shut down. How would that work exactly? President Obama would say, “Okay, you guys are serious, here’s another $21 billion”? Really? If that were such a fail-proof strategy, why stop there? Why not demand the full repeal of Obamacare, the immediate enactment of Paul Ryan’s budget and the resignations of Pelosi, Reid, Obama et al?
The second is that Republicans would have won the “hearts and minds” debate in the public over who caused the shutdown. Polls suggest that voters are split in that regard, but a majority of independent voters favored a compromise. If a shutdown had occurred, I can’t imagine a scenario in which independents would have overwhelmingly rallied to the Republican cause. In 2010, they voted against “extreme” Democrats, not for “extreme” Republicans, which to Chuck Shumer’s credit, is almost certainly how any shutdown scenario would have played out, and with the help of a gleeful mainstream media who have been champing at the bit to blame the Tea Party for a shutdown since Nov. 3, 2010. It’s not fair or accurate, but that’s the reality.
At the end of the day, Democrats still control the White House and the Senate for two more years. Regardless of what happens in these next two years, the 2012 election is the ultimate endgame. It would be extraordinarily foolish of the GOP to overplay its hand (the way Democrats did out of the gate in 2008) and risk alienating millions of independent voters in the process. Republicans will have enough of a challenge on their hands trying to sell Ryan’s budget against the onslaught of “death-to-granny” demagoguery from the Left.
With this admittedly modest $38.5 billion spending cut, Republicans have successfully moved the ball and set the stage for the coming battles. Democrats control two-thirds of the government, but they are playing on our turf. They look weak and disoriented. Several months from now, when the world hasn’t ended, Democrats and liberals will have a much harder time insisting that spending cuts are simply “unworkable.” I don’t think one has to completely neglect the reality of our tremendous fiscal problems, or lack the gumption to address them in order to support a slower-paced, “best deal we can get” strategy in the short term, especially when there are severe limits to what can be accomplished without a Republican president and, ideally, large majorities in both chambers of congress.
This may sound like “promising to fight the next time,” but the truth is that the real fight, which goes beyond the discretionary portion of the budget, hasn’t even started yet. If Republicans wimp out on the debt limit and/or fail to give a full-throated defense of their 2012 budget, then we’re all in big trouble. Maybe I’m putting too much faith in Paul Ryan, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think his assessment of the situation is dead on:
Let’s keep this in perspective and focus on the big picture, which is trillions of dollars of debt that are oncoming, not tens of billions for the rest of this fiscal year…We are in divided government, we are not going to be able to dictate the terms of everything by just controlling the House of Representatives…We can define ourselves with our actions, we can make great proposals, but we’re deluding ourselves to think that everything we want is going to pass into law with Harry Reid in the Senate and Barack Obama in the presidency. What we can do is make proposals and define ourselves with actions that show where we want to go in this country and then give the American people a real choice in 2012…So let’s not sweat tens of billions, let’s look at trillions and see where we’re headed.
Nothing great happens until 2012. But so far so good.