Republican leaders in both the House and the newly conquered Senate appear committed to giving up the most important responsibility of the 114th Congress before it’s even begun. When Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy floated the idea of passing a long-term continuing resolution through a Democratic-controlled Senate, funding the government through most of 2015, it was rightly met with plenty of criticism on and off the Hill. Yet it still seems to be the plan.
The general theory — that Republicans should get budget fights out of the way to “show they can govern” — is bad: A “governing” agenda would probably involve bipartisan business priorities, not the conservative ideas Republicans need; the president and Democrats can undercut it anyway as easily as you can say “veto” and “filibuster,” etc.
The specific consequences of a long-term budget deal are even worse. It would surrender all leverage Republicans have with government funding. That is a tool Republican leadership is reluctant to use, but a Republican House and Senate don’t need to wield the threat of defunding the entire government. Using the normal appropriations process, with bills the House has already drafted, they can attach riders regarding, say, prosecution of illegal immigrants to Homeland Security funding, or power-plant regulations to EPA funding. The prudence of these options will vary, but at least some of them should be able to put the president in a tough spot.
That can’t be done if Congress passes a long-term budget. A long-term budget that the Democratic Senate helps approve also won’t reflect the kind of conservative fiscal priorities that the president might be coaxed into: more defense spending, for instance, or an end to certain corporate tax credits.
A Republican Congress has two years to set out an alternative agenda to the president’s, the kind of conservative platform that voters will send a president to the White House in 2016 to approve. Writing budgets will be only one part of that, but it’s a pretty important part.
Republicans now control the entirety of the 114th Congress. They shouldn’t let the 113th Congress set its budget.