A Theory To Offer On The Budget, The Shutdown And Libya

I’m not totally committed to this, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

First, the theory. Then, some observations.

1. First came this from POLITICO:

Adding to the frustration, Senate Democratic sources say the White House told senators at a private Democratic Policy Committee meeting last Thursday that polling shows the public isn’t engaged in the fight over finishing last year’s spending bills. Administration officials say privately that’s an overly simplistic characterization of why they’re approaching the battle over the continuing resolution the way they are.

The nearly omniscient Mark Zelden, whose take on these matters cannot be challenged, interpreted that as follows…

These cuts cause zero concern from a solid majority of the electorate, so we cannot demagogue this like 1995.  Nobody cares what gets cut in discretionary for the most part which means if GOP defunds Planned Parenthood in a CR/HR 1 and Obama vetoes it, causing a shutdown of the government, it will not resonate.

Mark also said that based on his translation, the Democrats are exceedingly weak – and the time appears right for the Republicans to begin driving a very hard bargain with Obama and Harry Reid and not fear the consequences of a shutdown. Despite Reid’s statement yesterday that Planned Parenthood will not be part of any deal, I concur with his analysis, as I began beating the drum to stop offering budget bills the president can reject here on the Hayride a week ago. It’s obvious that Reid can’t be taken seriously; if he says he’s going to shut the government down over Planned Parenthood you can bet he won’t when the time comes.

2. This discussion came on the heels of 54 House Republicans actually voting against the three-week CR the Senate ended up passing yesterday, and a clear signal that the House GOP leadership will not be able to pass another short-term fix. The momentum is for a showdown, even if it leads to a shutdown. That despite a flurry of internal jabbering by both the GOP establishment and the fiscal hardliners over tactics and some hurt feelings in the process.

So much so that on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show yesterday he had a number of influential GOP Congressmen as guests – and the general indication was of a substantial stiffening of spines. Hewitt’s Daily Brief e-mail blast this morning contained an interesting rundown of the events…

When Doc Hastings replied in response to my question about defunding Planned Parenthood that “our leaders are absolutely committed to that, as am I committed to that,” he was rebutting the aide-driven buzz that the GOP caucus was going to sell out the social conservatives.

“We’re saying we think it’s time to push, we know our leadership is committed to that, it’s just a matter of tactics, timing and strategy,” said Jim Jordan about defunding both Planned Parenthood and NPR.

“And we’re saying we think the time is right, and this strategy is right to go after them now,” he continued.

Thus both Hastings and Jordan are committed to only one more CR and one that defunds Planned Parenthood and NPR.  (See this op-ed by Tea Party Patriots co-founders Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler on NPR.) Similarly the GOP caucus has no choice but to bar the use of funds on Obamacare regs or to shutter EPA’s carbon reg effort as well.  There is no GOP Congressman who will publicly disagree with any of these propositions and each of them is popular with the country as a whole, as is the need to cut spending.  It is hard to imagine whipping a vote for a “compromise” CR that abandons any of these four goals or which backs very far off of the $60 billion number.

Thus on April 8 the GOP leadership has to either win on these five points or allow the non-essential parts of the government to shut down.  All of Congressman King’s protests about it being only the second quarter and having a unified caucus are just beside the point.  The Republican base has reached its limit of patience over the need to secure something tangible –something real– from the overwhelming mandate it delivered last November, and that must come in the last CR for 2011.

3. Then came yesterday’s Fox News poll which gave Obama 43-35 approval on Libya – which is a pretty good number until you see the public opposes military intervention there by a 65-25 count. That’s a 22-point bleed, which is almost inexplicable unless you recognize that nonintervention in Libya hasn’t been our policy; we in fact have had no policy at all. I think at least 22 percent of the public recognizes that and disapproves or is torn because they’d like to see Obama come out and say Libya is not our fight.

The Fox poll showed disapproval across the board on the idea of a Libyan intervention. Republican, Democrat, Independent, Conservative, Liberal, Tea Party – regardless of ideological affiliation, there is no group interested in getting involved there. A breakdown, courtesy of Hot Air

But meanwhile, there are Republicans falling all over themselves to criticize the president – not because he’s failed to articulate a policy, and not because he’s doing NCAA brackets instead of his job, though there have been ample criticisms of that, but because he hasn’t helped the rebels in Libya. The editors at National Review were spoiling for a fight with Qaddafi earlier this week, though Andy McCarthy did a number on their reasoning on the same site yesterday. No such counterpoint was made at the Weekly Standard, where Bill Kristol is beating the war drums with the same ferocity he did prior to the Iraq War.

4. Despite No. 3, we got a UN Security Council resolution authorizing not just a no-fly zone in Libya, but any and all military means of dealing with Qaddafi short of boots on the ground. Yes, the exasperated and soon-to-be-back-home-in-Chappaqua Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been howling for it. But nobody really thinks President Obama cares about attacking Libya. Qaddafi says he’s announcing a cease-fire, but that has the same credibility as Reid’s Planned Parenthood oath-swearing.

This is what I think. I think Mark is right and the Democrats recognize they’ve got a real problem on their hands. While cutting defense or entitlements is the key to balancing the budget and they have an advantage when the GOP gets around to dealing with that stuff, none of this discretionary spending is a particular hill to die on for them since the public is perfectly fine with the GOP goring Democrat oxen like Planned Parenthood or NPR or lots of other dubious special-interest driven programs.

But while they’re on the wrong side of the public on those items, each of them represents a Democrat constituency which expects Obama and Reid to fight to the death for them, and money and turnout could well dry up for the Democrats next year if they don’t fight against the Republicans and, as it happens, the majority of the public on these issues.

So they’re in a real trick box if we get to the point where the GOP insists on slashing these discretionary items – which, as Hewitt concludes, is what’s going to happen. And the clock is ticking; we’ve got less than three weeks before the government runs out of cash.

Obama and Reid don’t want the shutdown. They can’t win the shutdown. How do you stop the shutdown?

Why, Libya of course.

The public doesn’t want us messing with Libya, but the Republicans are the ones generally griping about Obama’s lack of leadership there. So when he goes in, the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams can’t then reverse themselves and criticize him for doing it.

Not only that, they can’t then shut the government down; how are we going to fulfill our international obligations if Boehner turns the lights out?

Seems unpatriotic, doesn’t it? And you can bet the Democrats will send out one of the usual demagogues like Anthony Weiner, George Miller or Chuck The Schmuck to make the case that the Republicans are Qaddafi’s new best friends for pushing a government shutdown when our servicemen are in danger in three different foreign theaters.

With the Libya gambit, Obama either buys himself some time, or he and his party get a way to demagogue the shutdown as seditious, treasonous or whatever other perjorative term you’d like.

If my theory is right I don’t think this is any kind of permanent victory for Obama. But I do think at least some of the Republicans are going to get hoisted on their own petard – particularly the McCains and Grahams. And that’s why Dick Lugar, whose useful life in the Senate is coming to a close, has nevertheless done us a service by insisting that Obama can’t act in Libya without Congressional debate on the subject. Lugar, in fact, is doing the GOP a great service by pulling the party back from making a real mistake in getting out in front of an issue the public does not support them on.

The Libya thing is a trap. Republicans should stay out of it. They’re on the right side of every budget issue with the public, but if they get in front of Obama on Libya they’ll be on the wrong side of the issue and they’ll give him leverage to pull budget victory from the jaws of defeat – at least for a while.



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