As the 112th Congress gets down to business, a major element of the Tea Party agenda, deficit reduction, seems to have already been reduced in scope, now seemingly becoming the object of negotiation and political theater. Having reached the halls of Congress it’s a bit ironic to see such a major plank of the Tea Party platform slipping away so soon. It reminds one of that old Paul Simon refrain: “Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more your slip sliding away.” According to Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: “Many people knowledgeable about the federal budget said House Republicans could not keep their campaign promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending in a single year. Now it appears that Republicans agree.” This new found reluctance to enact budget cuts is a function of several factors. First, the federal fiscal year is already one third over so the amount of time left to affect meaningful cuts is greatly reduced. Second, lacking control of the Senate effectively stymies any attempt at drastic budget reductions over the next two years. Moreover, there is a reluctance on the part of Senators on both sides of the aisle to enact deep budget cuts during a time of severe recession as such measures may derail the weak but building recovery. Again to Calmes: “a House vote would put potentially vulnerable Republican lawmakers on record supporting deep reductions of up to 30 percent in education, research, law enforcement, transportation and more.” This degree of debt reduction would take millions of dollars out of the economy in the short run in spite of the longer term concerns about debt levels. While we can’t ignore the deficit problem indefinitely, any attempt to reduce the simulative effects of government spending in a weak economy may be just to risky for those currently occupying the halls of power. Thus the new line coming out of Republican leaders on Capitol Hill is that the $100 Billion number was a hypothetical figure to begin with. So much for a radical new day in Washington.
Then there is the fact that many of the proposals favored by the Republicans may do little if anything to rectify the budget deficit issue. According to Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo: “Republicans’ deficit reduction platform, which may have helped catapult them into the majority, is about to run headlong into a hard reality: Many of their key policy goals will increase the deficit dramatically. To get around this fact, they’ve included measures in their new rules package to exempt some of their biggest legislative priorities from deficit consideration. Among the exceptions, which the House is likely to consider in the 112th Congress, are the health care repeal bill, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, an AMT patch, extending the estate tax, and more…. The health care law, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will reduce the deficit by $143 billion through the end of the decade, and more so in the decade after that. Thus, repealing the law will blow a similarly sized hole in the deficit.” Likewise a recent editorial appearing in the Washington Post comes to a similar conclusion. Quoting from “New pay-go rules reveal GOP’s misplaced priorities”; “ARE HOUSE Republicans serious about dealing with the deficit? You could listen to their rhetoric – or you could read the rules they are poised to adopt at the start of the new Congress. The former promises a new fiscal sobriety. The latter suggests that the new GOP majority is determined to continue the spree of unaffordable tax-cutting. The ominous signs come in the wording of the new majority’s version of its pay-as-you-go rules, which normally require that new programs or tax initiatives be covered with cuts to other programs or new revenue. In the GOP concept, pay-as-you-go applies only to spending programs. When it comes to tax cuts, it’s all go, no pay. Taxes can be cut, and the national debt increased, without any offsetting savings.” Now granted it was not the newly elected Tea Party backed lawmakers who engineered this shift in strategy, it’s their new found partners within the Republican establishment. Thus it would appear that we are on the verge of a three way fight in the halls on Capitol Hill between the Democrats and the G.O.P., and between the G.O.P. and the Tea Party. That begs the question, what does this mean for the future of the Tea Party agenda and the movement’s ability to produce the single most important product a party creates, policy.
As the first day of the 112th Congress came to a close, two veteran political observers in Washington, both appearing on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, took stock of the new Congress, its Tea Party contingent and what could be expected going forward. Norm Orenstien of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said that the Republican Party had the “freedom” to pass whatever they wanted to in the House so as to attempt to undo the legislative achievements of the past two years. However, they also know that anything too radically to the right won’t survive the Senate or the President’s veto pen. That said, all that the newly radicalized lawmakers could accomplish was to “bollix up the health care debate and the legislative process”, to paraphrase Orenstien. Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, cautioned that it was unwise to read too much into the stunning Republican victory of 2010. Beschloss pointed out that while the Tea Party crowd ran for office on a radically rightwing agenda, the historical record shows that undoing the type of legislation just enacted doesn’t happen too often. Pointing to the G.O.P.’s similar victory in 1952, Beschloss said that while this victory was freighted with ideas such as dismantling Social Security and rolling back the Soviet Union militarily in Eastern Europe, none of that ever came to pass. In fact the Democrats regained Capitol Hill and basically held onto it until the election of 1994. Likewise Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal in her “after action report” on the 2010 election pointed to the fact that last November’s results don’t politically guarantee anything: “History doesn’t inspire optimism. Over the past 100 years, every time a president two years into his first term lost Congress, he went on to re-election: Truman in ’48, Eisenhower in ’56, Clinton in ’96. Newt Gingrich even wrote a book, “Lessons Learned the Hard Way,” about the GOP mistakes in the wake of 1994. It boiled down to Republicans over-promising and under-delivering-becoming the foil off of which President Clinton was able to skillfully pivot away from his own liabilities.” Thus we are about to witness some of the most interesting politics, political theater and political oratory to come onto the American scene since the end of the Second World War. At the very least is should be interesting as well as colorful.
Steven J. Gulitti
Republicans Lower Goal for Cuts to Budget;
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01… … 1&emc=eta1
GOP Exempts Deficit Busting Policies From New Budget Rules;
http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo… … -rules.php
New pay-go rules reveal GOP’s misplaced priorities;
http://www.washingtonpost.com/… … s_opinions
House GOP Backtracking on Promised ‘Reforms’ Before They Even Get Started;
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/… … 04227.html
The GOP’s 2012 Game Plan;
http://online.wsj.com/article/… … 93940.html