Today’s Morning Bell from the Heritage Foundation has an interesting theory to it…
On March 2, President Barack Obama anointed Vice President Joe Biden as his lead negotiator on coming to an agreement with congressional conservatives on this year’s federal budget. Biden then spent half a day on Capitol Hill talking with Republicans before jetting off to Europe. The next week, Senator Joe Manchin (D–WV) attacked the President on the Senate floor: “Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations—our president—has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?” What Manchin doesn’t seem to realize is that failure is Obama’s plan.
After an unprecedented two-year spending spree, President Obama is not looking to change Washington’s bad habits anytime soon. However conservatives got the message in last November’s elections. The American people want them to take substantive steps towards scaling back an out-of-control government. House Republicans passed a seven-month continuing resolution to keep the government operating that cut $61 billion in spending and blocked funding for a host of terrible policies, including Obamacare. This was a good first step. A modest step Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama are unwilling to take. In response, Reid and Obama have offered only the status quo.
The White House strategy is clear as day: It knows the American people do not currently trust President Obama on federal spending. Not only do 62 percent of Americans currently disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit, but for the first time in recent memory, more Americans say they prefer the approach of Republicans in Congress (47 percent) on “cutting programs to reduce the budget deficit and still maintaining needed federal programs” than President Obama’s (43 percent) approach. The White House knows it has to improve these numbers before President Obama can negotiate short- and long-term spending deals that protect his big-government spending priorities. So how is the White House planning to change these numbers? Two words: government shutdown.
The plan goes like this: President Obama does nothing now and allows the existing continuing resolution to expire. The White House and its media allies then portray the resulting government shutdown as the end of Western civilization as we know it (remember the TARP debate!). Americans’ faith in the Republican approach on “cutting programs to reduce the budget deficit and still maintaining needed federal programs” tanks. President Obama then emerges as the centrist peacemaker balancing the spendthrift congressional Democrats with the mean-spirited congressional Republican spending-cutters. President Obama’s base then pretends they’re offended at some very minor cuts, centrist Republicans cut a deal, and the President’s popularity soars like it did after the December tax legislation. Conservatives then go into the deficit ceiling and 2012 budget debates as untrusted losers. That is the White House plan.
Conservatives can’t allow this to happen. They should fill the void that President Obama’s failure to lead has created. After all, this debate is occurring because the previous Congress failed to even try and pass a budget, one of their basic responsibilities. They must make sure their constituents understand that President Obama and Senator Reid are not acting in good faith. The time for more continuing resolutions is over. This is about much more than cutting $61 billion from this year’s budget. If we cannot trim a meager 2 percent now, what hope do we have of tackling entitlements? We must make the tough decisions now because we know President Obama won’t.
Over the weekend I read Dick Morris’ new book Revolt!, which dealt with the subject of a potential shutdown and how the GOP can win it. Morris was on the other side of the 1995 shutdown, working as he did as a political consultant for the Clinton administration. Morris said part of the formula which allowed Clinton to “win” the shutdown – a judgement which Morris would be expected to make but is arguable nonetheless – was that the Democratic National Committee was running millions of dollars in TV ads attacking Republicans and there was no push-back. Now there will be.
Morris also says that the real motive behind Obama’s tactics on the budget, which he predicted quite accurately to date, is to create an environment in which tax increases are seen as not only reasonable but sorely needed – and by running up the deficit as he has, he’s all but forced them. The Democrats’ position that every dime of federal spending is essential to the preservation of the Republic, laughable though that is, is a necessary part of the strategy. It’s also why Obama offered to freeze federal spending at current levels – after running up spending through the roof.
Another key point in Morris’ book is that Republicans shouldn’t touch entitlement spending in this round of budget debates. It’s too risky to do so, and the spending runup Obama has presided over hasn’t been in Social Security and Medicare. He says Medicaid is a different story, though, and it should be capped and block-granted to the states. And discretionary spending has gone through the roof. So that’s the ground upon which the GOP should fight.
Morris says the GOP wins an all-out budget war on discretionary spending, even if a shutdown results. He suggests a series of short-term appropriations bills funding certain departments while others are shut down, so the public can see they’re really not all that necessary.
The folks at Heritage probably wouldn’t disagree with too much of Morris’ book, at least not the chapter on the budget fight.
But if the Morning Bell theory is correct, one has to question the political wisdom of the Obama administration. Taking the Libya situation and its effect on a potential shutdown out of the mix, the administration has to see that the polls don’t favor his position. The American people want cuts to the budget, and he’s not offering any. Unless he comes to the table with some, he can’t win a shutdown.
At the end of the day, Heritage – and Morris, who makes the point as well – has it right. The Republicans have got to stand strong; if they can, they’ll win the budget fight. If they don’t, they’ll give Obama new life.