Two and a Half Cheers for the Boehner Plan

by Michael J. New

The ongoing negotiations over the debt limit have brought out some interesting internal debates within the conservative movement. Buoyed by their gains in the 2010 elections, many conservatives thought they could use the debt limit as leverage for substantial cuts in government spending. However, as the summer has dragged on, it has become evident that the Obama administration will not be browbeaten into proposing any meaningful entitlement reforms. All the president has offered in exchange for real tax increases is a slight increase in the Medicare eligibility age many years into the future

As such, political considerations should take priority. A partial government shutdown could have negative effects for the Republican party. Many pundits have pointed out that after the 1995 government shutdown, Republicans were able to maintain their congressional majorities in the 1996 election. However, in the aftermath of the shutdown, President Clinton opened up a sizeable polling lead over Bob Dole (and other potential Republican candidates) and nationally the Republicans never really recovered.

The Boehner plan is far from perfect. One the good side, the short-term increase in the debt ceiling would raise the salience of fiscal issues in the 2012 election cycle. However, the plan would be stronger if it included more short term spending cuts. The spending caps are a good idea and difficult for President Obama to oppose politically. However, as I have argued before, in order for these caps to be effective, taxpayer groups need to make the caps — and violations of the caps — as visible as possible. The bipartisan congressional committee unfortunately seems to resemble countless blue ribbon commissions whose recommendations are typically ignored.

Still, fiscal conservatives still need to keep in mind that one of the best things that could happen for the long-term fiscal health of this country would be the repeal of Obamacare. For this to happen the Republicans need to win the presidency in 2012. Congressional Republicans should not jeopardize this by playing chicken with the debt limit.

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