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Keeping faith


 Ramesh has suggested that a bit of reflection will tell me I was “oversensitive” in responding to Andrew Stiles on the budget deal. Ramesh is not only very smart but ever the gentleman – I plead guilty, and thank him for not just telling me to stop being such a boor. I’d have had that coming. Andrew Stiles is a good colleague and a good guy. Regardless of how exasperated I may have been, I owed him better than the tone in which I made some of my points. I apologize for that – both to Andrew and to our readers.

I stand by the points I made, though. On that score, I said that (a) it would be absurd to try to use a shutdown over the 2011 budget in order to try to enact the ambitious Ryan budget plan, (b) the Ryan plan’s stated goals for 2012 and beyond are not what the ongoing 2011 budget battle is about, and (c) the “hard political work for achieving Ryan’s goals has barely begun.” I even added that I am not as enthralled by the Ryan plan as many of my NR colleagues seem to be. Somehow, Ramesh has translated this as “I think McCarthy the only person I know, including Paul Ryan himself, who considers the full enactment of the Ryan budget plan in this Congress as a test of Republican seriousness.” I don’t take this as a put-down, but it is a mistake.

Ramesh is right about this much: I certainly did propose a test of Republican seriousness. It was, however, a teeny bit more modest than the impossible one he describes. The test was simply this: Would the GOP do the very meager thing they pledged to do: Slice a relative pittance of $61 billion in spending from a budget of nearly $3.6 trillion? Not Ryan’s Hope to slash trillions from Obama’s long-term projections, but merely to keep faith with a promise to pinch a little over 1 percent from this year’s tab.

Nor do I believe, as Ramesh suggests, that pundits become GOP apologists just because they disagree with my conclusion that the Republicans sold out their $61 billion promise for $38 billion – or is it $28 billion? or $14 billion? or $8 billion? or, to borrow Ramesh’s gentle phrase, some other “different short-term legislative outcome.” I do think it is a big mistake – as we’re seeing yet again today – to set the Republicans’ bar for quitting and “living to fight another day” too low. They seem always to find a way to go lower … and their leaders have an irritating way of expecting you to applaud them while they do it. (See, e.g., Andrew’s report, here.) But it is not the low expectations that bother me – for I had low expectations. What I’ve found most objectionable about the coverage is how little it seemed to matter that the GOP had broken a commitment, so soon out of the gate, so central to why they were elected.

Let’s put aside the fact that the commitment on spending was exceedingly modest. At the time they made it, they trumpeted it as part of their “Pledge to America” – and it sure seemed to be significant around here. Back then, during the stretch-run of the 2010 campaign, NR’s editorial, “We’ll Take the Pledge,” described the GOP’s extensive set of promises as a “shrewd political document,” couched in “praiseworthy” rhetoric. The editors noted that the pledge “promises budget restraint. Domestic discretionary spending would be cut back to ‘pre-bailout, pre-stimulus’ levels, and then its growth would be capped – generating hundreds of billions in savings.” There were lots of other promises, too, about TARP, and an honest accounting of exploding entitlement spending, and so on.

Obviously, no one expected that this was all going to be accomplished in four months. Still, there was no admonition to be realistic regarding how little could be accomplished. The editors instead praised the pledge for daring to be even “bolder” than the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America.” At the very least, it was to be expected that Republicans would make a bold, good faith effort to get done what it was possible to get done in four months.

Have they keep faith with that pledge? I don’t think so, and I would have expected the people who took it seriously to be more angry about that.