Less than two years after facing the terrible possibility of seeing their party go extinct, congressional Republicans are beginning to face the even more terrifying possibility that they may take control of the House and even the Senate in the upcoming elections. Both the public and, even more intensely, Republican voters are alarmed by rising federal spending and the swelling federal debt. So perhaps the biggest challenge for the victorious Republicans will be enacting a budget that addresses their concerns.
What makes the task so daunting isn’t just the size of the gap between the federal government’s projected revenues and spending over the next decade. It’s that the largest and fastest-growing programs are popular. There is not much support for reining in Social Security and Medicare, even among those voters who tell pollsters they sympathize with the tea parties. One of the most successful Republican gambits of the last two years has been to oppose the Medicare cuts included in Obamacare. Because of the constraints of public opinion, even the boldest entitlement reformers favor gradual change that saves trillions in the long run but does not save much in the next few years.