The Corner

Boehner Wins Big

President Obama’s 2011 budget called for a spending increase of $40 billion. Tonight, he touted a bipartisan agreement on “the largest annual spending cut in our history” — some $38.5 billion [emphasis added].  All told, he got $78.5 billion less than he originally requested.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) didn’t want to cut anything at first. But bowing to political reality, eventually ponied up a measly $4.7 billion in cuts. He ended up with $33.8 billion less spending than he wanted. And he called it an “historic” accomplishment. (Not surprisingly, the left is appalled).

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), on the other hand, initially proposed $32 billion in spending cuts. House Republicans, led by an undaunted freshman class, bumped that number up to $61 billion ($100 billion off the president’s budget), before settling on $38.5 billion.

That’s $6.5 billion more than Boehner asked for to begin with, and $5.5 billion more than the $33 billion that Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats claimed had been agreed to less than two weeks ago. It remains to be seen how much of that will be “real” cuts to discretionary spending, but all told, it appears that we’’ll see a substantial reduction in baseline spending that will yield hundreds of billions in savings over the next decade.

But unlike Obama and Reid, the speaker didn’t quite feel the need to pat himself on the back over it. As he has said all along, “Our goal is to cut spending and keep the government open.” He did exactly that. In a brief statement to reporters after the deal was announced, Boehner said simply: “We fought to keep government spending down.”  And they’ll keep fighting, because the biggest battles — over the debt limit and the 2012 budget — are still to come. Given the sheer magnitude of our debt and deficit problems, a victory lap would have been ill-advised, and perhaps ill-deserved.

As Boehner himself repeated throughout this debate, “Republicans control just one-half of one-third of the federal government.” And yet look out the outcome. Democrats, the bigger two-thirds of the government, consistently reneged on their position, agreeing to more and more cuts. Perhaps more significant than the $38.5 billion in cuts, which Boehner told members was “the best deal we could get,” are the political implications as both sides prepare to tackle the bigger spending issues. “We’ve changed the conversation,” said freshman Rep. Tim Griffin (R., Ark.). “This year we’re talking about how much we’re going to reduce — cut — and that’s a major cultural shift in a matter of months.”

Indeed, Harry’s Reid dramatic shift on spending cuts — from denouncing the initial GOP offer ($32 billion) as “draconian” and “unworkable,” to celebrating a $38.5 billion spending cut as “historic” — is remarkable in and of itself. Also telling is the way that Democrats misleadingly inflated the amount of cuts being offered. All indications to the contrary, they seem to realize deep down that the American public wants to see fiscal restraint in Washington.

Of course, not all conservatives are pleased with the outcome. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), told NRO that he would vote against the deal and predicted a “significant number of no votes” from conservative and freshman members of the Republican Study Committee, which he chairs. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.) and Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) both said they were “disappointed” by with the final deal (both are also seeking higher office).

Boehner might need a few Democratic votes to pass the deal — that was always a likely outcome. But the narrative constantly pushed by Democrats and the media — that “extreme” Tea Party members would force him to shut down the government — never materialized. As a result, not only does it look like Boehner got the best deal in terms of spending cuts, but he also comes off as the most reasonable actor in the debate, the one who worked the hardest to reach a compromise.

Republicans should feel plenty confident heading into the upcoming debates over the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget, Paul Ryan’s daring proposal to cut the deficit by $6 trillion. This deal, thanks to Boehner’s robust leadership, was a good start — much less for the size of the spending cuts it yielded than for the political dynamic it revealed. They will need all the political capital they can muster going forward, because it’s only the beginning.

This post has been updated since first posting.

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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