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“How The GOP Made Fiscal Responsibility Look Irresponsible”: It’s A Matter Of When, Not If, Republicans Will Cave

It’s a minor miracle: Both houses of the Republican-controlled Congress have passed a budget.

Now, that’s the easy part compared to getting appropriations bills to Obama’s desk that he will actually sign. And notwithstanding the bipartisan lovefest that surrounded the House bill fixing Medicare physician reimbursements (held up for the moment in the Senate over abortion), deep philosophical differences between the parties remain.

So a standoff between congressional Republicans and the White House is inevitable. (Unless you think Obama is going to suddenly want to repeal ObamaCare.) And under both Obama and President Bill Clinton, these stalemates have seldom ended well for the Republicans.

Why? Because even though the Constitution vests the most important taxing and spending powers in Congress, the president has some huge advantages. If the president doesn’t want to sign a given spending bill and Congress doesn’t have the votes to override the veto, lawmakers only have blunt instruments with which to force his hand. And since congressional Republicans tend to end up getting the blame in the media and in the polls, even those tools are of limited utility. The president knows it is a matter of when, not if, Republicans will cave.

Republicans are trying to rein in the spending driving both the long-term debt and the unfunded liabilities of the major entitlement programs the Democrats built. They are trying to be fiscally responsible.

You may not agree with all the cuts Republicans make in their budgets. You may not be convinced their numbers add up. But Paul Ryan and Tom Price have been more transparent about their fiscal vision than most of their detractors.

The president has a different vision, and he isn’t budging. To try and force his hand (if not change his mind), Republicans have relied on a series of high-profile manufactured crises: the fiscal cliff, various debt ceiling standoffs, government shutdowns, near-shutdowns of major Cabinet departments, the threat of across-the-board tax increases, you name it.

And that’s the problem. In the process, they have made fiscal responsibility look downright irresponsible.

As the national debt was careening toward $18 trillion, Republicans insisted there be some limit to the federal government’s borrowing power. But because of the means they used to try to compel the president, it was the Republicans who stood accused of refusing to pay Washington’s bills and letting the government default on its obligations.

In the fiscal cliff debate, Obama likened congressional Republicans to hostage takers when they tried to hold the line on spending and taxes. Fiscally-minded conservatives probably fancy themselves more green eyeshade accountants than hostage takers. But it’s true that the GOP’s weaponized approach made them look like irresponsible bad guys, at least in the mainstream media.

These battles haven’t been a total loss for Republicans. Far more of the Bush tax cuts have survived than once seemed likely. Sequestration has contained spending growth. But because sequestration hits defense spending as well as social programs, a lot of Republicans are as anxious for relief as the Democrats. This in turn annoys the party’s strongest fiscal conservatives. Why trust promises of future spending cuts when the leadership seems willing to roll back the ones already in effect?

Conservative activists are irritated by the fact they have little to show for the last time Republicans held the White House and Congress simultaneously — and probably feel a little guilty they didn’t do more to pressure Republicans at the time. So they have made up for it by pressuring Republicans to do things they don’t have enough power to do. And because the Republican leadership frequently says it will fight next time and then next time doesn’t come, their pleas for patience fall on deaf ears.

That’s true even among members of the House. A key group of fiscal conservatives clearly lacks confidence in the leadership but doesn’t have the votes or a plan to replace them.

While there has been substantial short-term deficit reduction, the fiscal picture over the longer term keeps getting bleaker. All conservative lawmakers can do is vote for bills they correctly see as entirely inadequate to fix the challenges facing the country — or deny leadership the votes to pass anything, except by working with the Democrats.

Thus the party of fiscal discipline often doesn’t seem disciplined at all.

 

By: W. James Antle, lll, The Week, March 30, 2015

March 31, 2015 - Posted by | Budget, Congress, Fiscal Policy | , , , , , , , ,

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