Debating the Budget Deal

by Ramesh Ponnuru

William Kristol ably makes the case for passing the budget deal even if it does contain an astonishing amount of gimmickry. There are bigger budgetary issues to move on to, and why risk damaging conservatism’s prospects in 2012 over the smaller ones? It’s a reasonable case.

But Bill doesn’t, I think, do justice to the case for voting against it—which is more than a matter of preening (“reveling in our incorruptible purity” is how he puts it). Congressmen can’t enter these bigger battles without having some trust that their leaders will talk straight to them, and have to be able in turn to talk straight to their grassroots supporters. Technical defenses of the budget, such as the one produced by my friend John McCormack, do not change the fact that the most knowledgeable supporters of the deal acknowledge, at least privately, that a large fraction of it is phony.

If tea-party congressmen nonetheless vote for it, how can they tell their supporters that they meant what they said last fall about transparency and ending D.C.’s budget games? Won’t those supporters have a right to feel taken? Won’t the future advice of anyone who argues for a yes vote be discounted when it’s not clear they’ll ever draw a line and say no?

NR’s editorial was right: By striking a deal full of gimmicks and overselling it, Republican leaders have put their followers in a bad place.

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