Tonight at the very last minute, the House Republicans and Senate Democrats finally hammered out an agreement on the rest of the 2011 federal budget, averting a government shutdown which had been the subject of constant politicking and punditry for the past three weeks.
The final tally: some $39 billion in real budget cuts, which compared to a $1.6 trillion deficit is nothing but is in fact the largest real budget cut in American history.
Virtually everybody associated with this deal is coming away unsatisfied. That’s what compromises look like. But given that, there are winners and losers to be identified.
House Speaker John Boehner – Boehner is going to get beaten up pretty badly by Tea Party folks who think $61 billion is the absolute least amount of budget cuts he could go for. And perhaps that’s rightly so – polling indicates that had there been a shutdown, it’s as likely the Democrats and/or President Obama would have suffered more for it than the GOP.
But Boehner got more than just $39 billion out of the $61 billion the Republicans passed in their budget resolution. Truth be told, you’ve got to count the cuts he secured in the temporary continuing resolutions – including the $2 billion he’s getting in the “bridge” CR the House passed tonight. That makes the total close to $80 billion in cuts off the White House’s original budget figure, which isn’t bad. It is, as said above, the largest real budget cut in American history. The fact that it doesn’t actually do anything to the budget deficit (which isn’t exactly true; depending on where the cuts actually fall they might shift funding baselines such that over the next decade they could really amount to real money) just shows you what an enormous shift in thinking this really is. It takes a ton of work to create a deficit this large, after all.
What Boehner also got, though, was a cornucopia of political treats for conservatives. Among them (from Boehner’s blog)…
- OFFICIALLY ENDS THE “STIMULUS” SPENDING BINGE. The agreement begins to reverse the “stimulus” spending binge that began in 2009 – signaling the official end of a period of unprecedented government intervention that former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and other economists say hurt job creation in America by crowding out private investment.
- SETS STAGE FOR TRILLIONS MORE IN SPENDING CUTS. Clears the way for congressional action on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget – The Path to Prosperity – which cuts trillions in spending and offers a long-term blueprint for American job creation.
- GUARANTEES SENATE VOTE ON REPEAL OF OBAMACARE. The agreement reached with Senate Democrats guarantees a Senate debate and vote on legislation that would repeal President Obama’s government takeover of health care in its entirety. The House passed such legislation in January as part of the Pledge to America.
- NEW TOOLS IN THE FIGHT TO REPEAL OBAMACARE. The agreement will generate new tools for the fight to repeal Obamacare by requiring numerous studies that will force the Obama Administration to reveal the true impact of the law’s mandates, including a study of how individuals and families will see increased premiums as a result of certain Obamacare mandates; a full audit of all the waivers that the Obama Administration has given to firms and organizations – including unions – who can’t meet the new annual coverage limits; a full audit of what’s happening with the comparative effectiveness research funding that was in Obamacare and the president’s failed “stimulus” spending bill; and a report on all of the contractors who have been hired to implement the law and the costs to taxpayers of such contracts.
- DENIES ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO THE IRS. The Obama administration has sought increased federal funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – money that could be used to hire additional agents to enforce the administration’s agenda on a variety of issues. This increased funding is denied in the agreement.
- GUARANTEES SENATE VOTE & DEBATE ON DE-FUNDING PLANNED PARENTHOOD. The agreement with Senate Democrats guarantees a Senate debate and vote on legislation that would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
- BANS TAXPAYER FUNDING OF ABORTION IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. The agreement includes a complete ban on local and federal funding of abortion in the District of Columbia, applying the pro-life principles of the Hyde Amendment (“D.C. Hyde”).
- MANDATORY AUDITS OF THE NEW JOB-CRUSHING BUREAUCRACY SET UP UNDER DODD-FRANK. The agreement subjects the so-called Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the job-destroying Dodd-Frank law to yearly audits by both the private sector and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to monitor its impact on the economy, including its impact on jobs, by examining whether sound cost-benefit analyses are being used with rulemakings.
While some of those bullet points aren’t really a big deal, some of them are – as we’ll expand upon below. Oh – and Boehner also managed a nice little nugget out of this, namely that he got the D.C. school voucher program reinstated.
Michelle Bachmann – As the leader of the Tea Party Caucus, Bachmann said she’d be voting against the bill – which puts her in a small minority. Forget about that. Bachmann is the only GOP presidential candidate who actually weighed in on the budget fight, and she played a sizable part in driving the conversation toward larger cuts. She’s likely to get creamed by the left-wing media as irresponsible and branded as extreme, and so on, but in this environment that only provides street cred with Republican voters.
Mike Pence – Pence belongs here because it was his efforts which brought the issue of federal funding for Planned Parenthood to the forefront. And by doing so he created a colossal lever Boehner used masterfully this week. No, defunding of Planned Parenthood didn’t make it into the final deal – but the fact is that was never going to happen with the current roster of Democrats in the Senate and the White House. Boehner got a commitment for a vote on Planned Parenthood in the Senate, though, and because of that we’re going to get some major clarity out of some senators up for re-election next year that those senators would prefer not to offer.
President Barack Obama – Obama did very little to produce this deal, but his atrociously bad performance didn’t result in a shutdown. That is, frankly, a miracle for the President – whose staff seemed to think a shutdown was to their benefit but who clearly weren’t willing to stake their jobs on the prospect. And given the horribly stupid mistake the White House made earlier this week in threatening a veto of a one-week CR that would have cut $12 billion and funded the troops for the rest of the fiscal year, Obama is lucky as hell no shutdown happened; stiffing the troops while we’re in the middle of three wars over Planned Parenthood would have exposed him for the weak leader he’s been throughout this fight.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – The most likely effect of this deal is that Reid will become minority leader by this time in 2013, a circumstance which was incredibly likely before it but seems certain now. Reid had to offer up a guarantee of a Senate vote on an Obamacare repeal; which, of course, won’t become law since Obama would veto it. But there are a good number of Senate Democrats who would sooner drink arsenic than have to take that vote. Bill Nelson, Bob Nelson, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Debbie Stabenow, Bob Menendez, Herb Kohl, Sherrod Brown – every one of them is in a state whose population is either dead-set against implementing Obamacare or leaning that way. And for at least four of them a vote against repealing Obamacare is going to be the end of their careers.
Reid’s loss tonight isn’t just in the 2012 electoral projections. It’s in the optics. His idiotic speeches about cherry blossom festivals and how his wife and daughter wouldn’t get cancer screenings unless Planned Parenthood got federal money made him a laughing stock. And with that kind of damaged credibility it’s quite likely his relevance will continue to recede as it has since the current Congress opened its business.
Sen. Bob Casey – While having to take a vote on Obamacare in a state which appears to be turning red is bad enough, the Pennsylvania Democrat who calls himself pro-life is really going to hate having to vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. A vote like that for a pro-life Democrat up for re-election in 2012 is a nightmare. Depending on how badly the vote goes for Casey, he might even open the door for Rick Santorum – assuming the latter’s efforts at a presidential run peter out – to take a shot at reclaiming the seat Casey took from him in 2006.
Nancy Pelosi – Perhaps you didn’t hear much from Pelosi on the budget deal; as it turns out she wasn’t even in Washington today. Instead, she was in Boston giving a lecture and saying stupid things like this…
“Try to make sure that the values that I’m sure we all share are reflected in the choice you make,” Pelosi said. “Another I way I would say to my Republican friends: Take back your party, so it doesn’t matter so much who wins the election because we have shared values about the education of our children, the growth of our economy, how we defend our country, have civil liberties, how we respect our seniors.”
Out. Of. Touch. There’s a reason the Democrats kept their House minority leader quiet this week.
Sen. Chuck Schumer – For all of Chuck The Schmuck’s rhetoric about “extreme” Republicans, for which he got himself unwittingly busted on a conference call with reporters, having to swallow nearly $40 billion in budget cuts makes him look pretty hollow. So $61 billion is extreme, but $39 billion is reasonable? Or is Chuck The Schmuck a hyper-partisan blowhard with an oral fixation on microphones who can’t be taken any more seriously than a chimpanzee on methamphetamines?
You make the call.
Rep. Louise Slaughter – All we need to do is show the video. For sheer diarrhea of the mouth you just can’t beat this woman…
President Barack Obama – Though we also listed him as a winner, it’s probably won’t be forgotten that Obama was perfectly willing to let the troops go unpaid while America is engaging in three different wars – one of which Obama started while this budget crisis loomed – so that Planned Parenthood would get funded.
That’s not the kind of thing folks will forget.
Obama was never popular with the military. He’s going to be absolutely hated now. He’s given the GOP a major weapon to use against him next year and he’s established the possibility of somebody with a military background or identification to run against him. Who that might be is a pretty good question, though.
Of course, this list of winners and losers is only a temporary one, because in six weeks or less we’ll be engaged in a fight every bit as contentious – if not much more so – than this one is. That fight will be over the debt limit increase, which is actually even stronger ground for the GOP than this fight was; while the American people appeared split over who would be the bad guy in the event of a government shutdown, there are overwhelming majorities opposed to borrowing more money. That ultimately we’re talking about the same thing isn’t really significant; it’s a question of how the issue is framed. And when you have proposals like the one Sen. Pat Toomey has made which would direct the Treasury to pay debt service first before any other spending can be done, it’s going to be very hard for the Democrats to sell an increase in the debt level without giving up concessions even greater than they did tonight.
UPDATE: An interesting take from Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, giving some pros and cons for Boehner, Pelosi, Obama, the Tea Party and Reid. Morrissey notes, appropriately, that this was actually supposed to be Pelosi’s budget and she couldn’t have been more irrelevant at the end. He also notes that Reid negotiated from a position of maximum weakness since he never passed anything on the Senate side and so didn’t get this resolution into a conference committee where he would have been on an equal standing.
With due respect, I think those who are praising the budget deal are deluding themselves. Under circumstances where we are trillions of dollars in debt, the GOP just caved on its promise to cut the relative pittance of $61 billion in spending because it’s just not worth fighting for more than the half-pittance of $40 billion Democrats claimed was their drop-dead number. “Drop dead” meant daring Republicans to shut the government down (which, as we know, doesn’t actually shut the government down). The Republicans blinked.
For me, this is no surprise — as I’ve said several times (see, e.g., here and here), I don’t think they’re serious. But I want to make a point about how strange this praise of Boehner & Co. is. A mere four months ago, the big controversy in conservative and Republican circles was whether the GOP had reneged on their vaunted pledge to cut $100B in spending in the current fiscal year because they had seemingly come down to $61B. As I noted at the time, there was no question that, if you looked at the fine print of the pledge, the commitment was $61B — but that if you looked at reality, both $61B and $100B were laughably unserious. No matter. Folks around here pooh-poohed my criticism and insisted that a $61B pledge was a sober first step, showing real fortitude about getting our fiscal house in order.
So now they’ve stopped short, significantly short, of that purportedly serious step, and the reaction is, “We won!” You’ve got to be kidding me. The only thing Boehner won is future assurance that GOP leadership can safely promise the moon but then settle for crumbs because their rah-rah corner will spin any paltry accomplishment, no matter how empty it shows the promise to have been, as a tremendous victory.
While emotionally it’s tempting to side with McCarthy here, this is a largely existential fight (as I’m sure he’d agree) for the future of the country. And you can’t win such a fight without capturing the middle – meaning independents. Independents, who generally suck on politics, simply were not on board with shutting down the government over last year’s budget. They are, as it happens, on board with doing it over raising the debt limit – a Fox News poll out this weekend says that 62 percent of the country overall and 62 percent of independents (along with 79 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats) would rather shut the government down than raise the debt limit.
You win when you have the center with you. It’s unclear whether Boehner had it this time, so the smart play was to get what he could get and move on to the next fight. Which is exactly what he did. But it looks like in six weeks he will have the center firmly in his camp, along with the momentum and positive buzz he got from this negotiation, and he will be in a position to command a lot better deal along with some more substantial cuts.
Which is a promising picture, even if you spend most of your time stroking out over the viciousness of the fight just to get a measly $40 billion in cuts. Contrast that with what could have happened – namely, a protracted government shutdown, an avalanche of bad media that quickly wears down the public (and specifically the sucktastic independents who can’t be counted on for more than passing support) and a constant stream of demagoguery from the Schumers, Wieners, Sheila Jackson Lees and Debbie Wasserman Schultzes about how the Republicans are hell-bent on killing women, children and old people. Of course it’s bullshit; it works. If it didn’t it wouldn’t be among the last tricks in their bag along with raaaacism and class warfare.
I don’t know that the GOP wins that shutdown with much more than the $40 billion they got. And I really don’t know that they win the shutdown politically at all. I’m as happy with a shutdown as the next guy and I’m not afraid of one. But there isn’t much point in a Pyrrhic victory, either, and if we’re going to have to go into a shutdown I want to do it with maximum leverage.
Think of the budget/debt situation as the last two minutes of a football game, and the country is on offense with about 90 yards to go but down five points. A touchdown wins it; anything else won’t. The Democrats ought to be on our side, but as it happens they’re the defense. Now – do you throw a bomb into the teeth of a prevent defense, or do you work the ball down the field, getting first down after first down until finally you’re in the end zone? Playing for a shutdown is throwing a bomb. Boehner got a couple of short passes (the two-week CR’s) and then on 3rd and 3 or so he got the first down last night. Sure, we’re probably still 75 yards away, but at least we’ve got the ball.