Published on TheHill.com on April 5, 2011
If House Republicans accept a “compromise” of less than $61 billion in budget cuts, it will demonstrate that they will never really make good on their sole bargaining chip — a government shutdown. If they don’t do it over the continuing resolution (CR), they won’t do it over the debt limit or the 2012 budget.
If the Republicans in the House accede to Democratic and administration demands that they accept a lesser figure in budget cuts, they will throw away all their power and be revealed as toothless and impotent, though still noisy. In this one act, they will throw away the victory of 2010.
And there is no need to cave in! The prospect of a government shutdown is not the only alternative. A targeted shutdown, which zero-funds programs we want to go away anyway and which the public will never miss, is the real option.
Don’t shut down the government. Shut down the State Department and the Agency for International Development. Alone, that would generate the $61 billion in cuts. Zero-fund PBS and the Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Zero-fund the Bonds for America Program ($12 billion). Zero-fund the stimulus programs for infrastructure construction and repair.
Senate Democrats and the Obama administration will not dare shut down the rest of the government in retaliation. If they do, the entire fight will be posed as: Do we want to eliminate foreign aid, or shut down the entire federal government to save it?
Once the Republicans win the fight in principle, they can back off the zero-funding and negotiate a CR that makes more sense and spreads the cuts more widely but still totals $61 billion. But during the shutdown phase, the shutdown must be targeted at agencies that have no popularity or domestic constituency.
Once Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama realize that House Republicans won’t pull the trigger on a government shutdown (entire or targeted), there is no reason for them to negotiate seriously with the House. The GOP’s leverage will evaporate, and its capacity to fulfill any of its campaign promises will have been vitiated.
Are the Democrats seriously to believe that House Republicans will kill the debt-limit increase if their demands are not met or will close the government on Oct. 1 if their budget is not adopted? Once the House Republicans back off on the CR, there is no way they can be taken seriously.
For Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (Ky.), the stakes are their credibility within their own conference. The Tea Party Republicans and most of the freshmen are not going to support retreat from the $61 billion in cuts. They will be sustained by a massive outpouring of opposition to any compromise by their ground troops. By trying to do Harry Reid’s work and jamming a compromise down the throats of the freshmen and Tea Party Republicans, Boehner, Cantor, Ryan and Rogers all risk a profound division in the party. In effect, they will be announcing a kind of coalition majority in the House, discarding the leftist Democrats and the Tea Party Republicans with equal disdain. The Republican House campaigns of 2012 will be riddled with primary contests and much of the establishment of the party will be swept from office in a sea of anger and outrage at their failure to keep their promises.
Any Republican who votes to compromise on the $61 billion is inviting a primary fight — one in which I will happily participate. We elected the House Republicans to stand firm. We put them in office not to cave in. And now, we will find out what they are made of.