The Budget Deal: Take the Broad View

by Steven F. Hayward

About the ever-shriveling budget deal, Cornerites, Tea Partiers, and others are right to feel like Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, who remarked, “This deal is getting worse all the time.” But as the person who I think was the first to raise the yellow flag here on the Corner that the budget deal might contain accounting gimmicks (the day before the news started making the media), let me make the case that it is a mistake to overreact, as I think Peter Kirsanow is doing.

It might have been emotionally satisfying to shut the government down in search of larger immediate spending reductions. The GOP might have won a shutdown confrontation — I thought it likely, and said so here. But there is no disputing that a shutdown was a high-risk strategy whose downside might have been to lose further momentum for fiscal reform. Had the GOP failed to win a shutdown confrontation, they would have been weaker for the next two rounds when the stakes would have been larger, reinforced the media line that the House GOP is a radical party unable to govern, and thereby strengthened Obama’s political position, just as the shutdown of 1995 reinforced Clinton’s political position heading into the 1996 election. Was it worth taking that risk for $60–75 billion in discretionary spending — the easiest kind to revive later in the dead of night? Far better, it seems to me, to get on the with main event — Ryan vs. Obama — than linger on the undercard.

My reading of Democrats’ body language (and actual language) right now is that they are genuinely worried about the debt-ceiling vote, which will not have the same dynamic as the CR, because there isn’t a hard and fast midnight deadline beyond which the government will shut down, or a definite point at which the nation even stops paying its bills. The Treasury has a number of measures it can take to keep the cash flowing for at least a few days or weeks, during which time financial markets may well throw a hissy fit. It’s not clear how this will play out, but it will be harder for Democrats to use a red herring like “Planned Parenthood” or charges of “radical Tea Partiers” on the debt ceiling. There is no doubt the CR was a messy process with no clear political outcome, but as Jim Manzi rightly notes below, this is a game of chess, not checkers. It was the impatience of the House GOP in 1995 that led them to miscalculate rather than play out their pieces more slowly. Finally, don’t forget that Democrats and the media are licking their chops playing up discontent on the right as a means of dividing us. Let’s hang together for the next round.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Tea Party ire might not be better directed right now at two other aspects of congressional profligacy and backsliding that have gone unnoticed. First, if Rand Simberg is right, at least one dubious earmark crept back into the CR. And if one gets by this time, the door will open to bringing them back wholesale the next time.

Second, if we succeed in keeping earmarks killed, how about getting senators and congressmen to give up their overseas junkets next? Today’s Washington Post reports on several upcoming junkets being organized by Republicans, including one to Southeast Asia and the Middle East, led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, and another by Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, which will take in Dublin, Vienna, and Prague from May 14 to May 21. Maybe these trips are useful (I doubt it), but why do they need to be gold-plated trips on military jets? Why can’t these good public servants just fly first class on commercial airlines like everyone else? These junkets should go the way of earmarks, too.

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