On Ryan’s Mediocre Budget Deal

Yesterday’s announcement of a budget deal between House Budget chair Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, his Democrat counterpart in the Senate, means the Capitol Hill dance from one fiscal crisis to another has gone on hiatus until 2015.

For that, one supposes, we can be grateful.

We can also be grateful that part of the budget deal includes a return to “regular order,” in which actual budgeting will take place rather than the never-ending string of continuing resolutions through which the federal government has been funded since the Bush administration.

That having been said, there isn’t a lot in this deal that would get the GOP’s base of voters excited…

The House-Senate deal sets the top-line spending number at $1.012 trillion for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1.

The proposed spending is more than the levels lawmakers approved in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which would have capped non-mandatory government spending at $967 billion in 2014, with the cuts coming from, among other places, the military, Veterans Affairs and the FBI.

The details of the deal remained sketchy as of press time, though Mr. Ryan and Mrs. Murray said they would post the proposal on their respective websites and it would require that federal employees and members of the military pay more for their retirement benefits.

The deal also contains a hike in the user fees to be paid by air travelers – in other words, the TSA will now charge you more for the privilege of getting groped by unionized public employees at the airport.

It is what it is.

The deal, from Ryan’s perspective and that of the House GOP leadership, reflects the thinking that if things continue as they are 2014 could be a wave election for the Republicans. Democrats are drowning in Obamacare at present, and there is no reason why that wouldn’t continue.

The polls show abject destruction for the other side. For example, Tom Cotton is now up seven points on Mark Pryor in Arkansas. AP has Obama’s disapproval at a whopping 58 percent (only 42 percent approve). Quinnipiac has his approval at only 38 percent, with Republicans ahead on the generic ballot by five points. The Democrat PPP poll has Republican Terri Lynn Land ahead 44-42 against Democrat Gary Peters for the open Senate seat in blue Michigan.

Those ugly numbers are everywhere.

So what the leadership has decided is that it’s time to sit on the lead awhile, and let the Dems suffer through Obamacare. Don’t give them a chance to change the subject with a government shutdown or a messy budget fight.

Jim Geraghty, in today’s Morning Jolt, sums it up…

The Ryan-Murray deal puts Obama and Reid in a box. Only a few events would be big enough to change this dynamic, and the most likely is another shutdown. But to get another government shutdown, they have to shoot down this deal — putting them on the wrong side of a happy-talk “bipartisan compromise” and making them the scapegoats for any failure to reach a deal. Sure, they could dig in and force another government shutdown, but they would get the blame for this one.

And that’s why Ryan allowed Murray to sell him on breaking the sequester caps and paying for it on the backs of federal employees’ pensions and people getting on airplanes.

This might well be a good strategy – if you sweep the budget off the table, along with every other issue the Democrats might want to use to change the subject, every House and Senate race next November then becomes a referendum on Obamacare. And when the public’s opinion of Obamacare is that by 50-34, 54-41 or 50-39, depending on which poll you’d like to go by, the voters think it sucks, you’re going to win.

But here’s the danger in that – namely, that you’re sitting on a lead. What happens to football teams who sit on a lead? That’s right – they turn a comfortable victory into a nail-biter.

This isn’t football, but the principle does apply.

The biggest problem the GOP has across the country is that its own voters don’t trust it. Its own voters don’t believe its politicians are willing to fight for the principles they say they’re for. Many of those voters are not sold that there’s a big difference between Republicans and Democrats – they see a ruling class in Washington and not much else.

And doing a budget deal which doesn’t make any changes other than returning to regular order, which is a very good thing to be sure, is going to give a very tepid feeling to that base.

Now, it might be that Obamacare makes for Republican and conservative turnout in 2014, so this stuff doesn’t matter – and that all the GOP leadership needs to do in order to reel in a Senate majority is not to make mistakes.

That might be. But is it too much to ask that Paul Ryan, who is supposed to be brilliant, didn’t roll Patty Murray, who is most certainly not brilliant, just a little?

What did Ryan get? A refusal to extend unemployment benefits?

This is a classic case showing why Republicans lose in Washington.

Democrats always want more spending, more government, more giveaways. They bring a laundry list to every negotiation of things Republicans will have to give on – tax increases, new benefits, new programs, you name it. And they’re never willing to give up anything to get those new toys.

So every negotiation on Capitol Hill is discussed as a function of how much growth in government Republicans are willing to tolerate. It’s as though you’re haggling with a mugger over how much of the cash in your wallet he’s willing to leave you with.

And the fact that Ryan was able to keep the Democrats from chiseling more money to pay people not to work is considered a victory.

All the aspects of this budget deal aren’t public yet, but so far Ryan hasn’t announced any deliverables for Republicans – other than a slight increase in military spending, which based on current trends just means more bureaucrats rather than more jets, tanks and ships.

It would be smart politics, if Republicans are going to play small-ball in the runup to next year’s election, to fight over a few deliverables. Grab a few items from Sen. Tom Coburn’s Wastebook, which outlines useless and duplicative federal expenditures, and get Murray to agree to kill some of those programs and expenditures. At least come up with something Ryan can take to Republican voters and say “Look, we managed to do away with this and we didn’t even have to go through a messy fight about it.”

Maybe that happened. If so, it would be good politics to say so. Because fiscal conservatives will see this deal and doubt they’ve got enough people on the Republican side who even care about this stuff. That’s what a mediocre deal gets you, and that’s how you bleed off your own support.

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