Obviously, with control of only one house of Congress, Republicans are constrained in what they can actually accomplish through legislation, so it is unrealistic to assume that they can solve spending problems overnight. That said, I find the mood a bit too self-congratulatory among Hill Republicans after Friday night’s budget deal — $38 billion dollars used to be nothing to sneeze at, and it is a welcome move in the right direction, but it is a drop in the bottomless bucket of debt accumulated over the last decade. And when considering where the baseline budget has gone in the previous couple of years, it likely is only a small clawback on Obama-backed budget increases.
More importantly, the deal has allowed Democrats to purchase the mantle of fiscal responsibility (and bipartisanship to boot) on the cheap. If Harry Reid had been told, after the “wave” election of November 2010 in which he nearly lost his job (well, not nearly as should have been), that he could claim victory and assert that Democrats are committed to fiscal austerity all for a mere $38 billion, I have little doubt that he would have signed up for that deal on the spot. Republican leadership has essentially admitted — despite the tough talk — they’re a relatively cheap and willing date.
Does the budget deal set the stage for battles to come on GOP terms? Or does it just show Democrats that they can get most of what they want as long as they talk the right talk? I tend to believe it is the latter. It is important that Republicans maintain a contrast between the parties on spending — and the budget deal really fuzzies that contrast.