Today’s Courier Herald Column:
There is yet another fight brewing in Washington over the budget. And has become custom, the fight isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, but is Republican versus Republican. The money authorized by Congress is set to expire at the end of this month. As such, a new Continuing Resolution must be passed to fund federal spending as no budget is in place for this fiscal year. These bills must originate in the House, which passed a CR to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. Some conservatives, however, are not pleased.
The measure which passed the House on Wednesday reallocates some money to ease the pain of sequester and gives several agencies including the Department of Defense more flexibility with their cuts. Key to the internal Republican battle however is that the measure doesn’t specifically strip the funding for the President’s Health Care Reform Act, a/k/a Obamacare.
Some believe this was the time to take a principled stand to remove the funding for the program. Doing so would no doubt result in a clash with the Senate which would not pass the measure, ending in yet another threat of Government shutdown by the end of the month. The threat of a Presidential veto would certainly prohibit the measure from becoming law.
Republican leadership – which spent much of 2012 on the losing end of the political narrative surrounding the fiscal cliff issues – has noticed they finally begun to gain traction with their current messaging. They have passed a “no budget, no pay” plan that would withhold Congressional pay if both chambers do not pass a budget.
They’ve managed to gain ground over who is being the obstructionist with Democrats thus far unable to back up their talk of “balanced” spending cuts with increased revenues despite Republicans earlier acquiescing to higher taxes. Much of the focus over the last two weeks have been over threats from the White House over the drastic cuts in services that will happen because of sequestration, only to have embarrassing White House emails surface which direct agencies to ensure that the most visible images of hardship will be preserved as cuts are administered.
In short, a public which has seen tax rates go up across the board at the beginning of the year is finally starting to wonder if the Democrats are willing to make any substantive cuts to the budget at all, or if they really are back into classic “tax and spend” mode. At the same time, Republicans are beginning to be viewed as a party that is working toward solutions but within the reasonable confines of a party that only controls one half of one third of the US Government.
Thus, the call to pick a fight that will shut down the government is ill timed and ill advised. The last Congress held 31 votes to get rid of Obamacare and it remains the law of the land. The strategy for Republican leadership has now moved to force the President and Senate Democrats to show in the clear detail of their budget plan how they intend to pay for it. Rather than taking a symbolic but empty 32nd vote to defund it, Republicans have decided to quit negotiating themselves and tell the Democrats “show us the money”.
Those calling for the vote to defund Obamacare are generally the same ones who decried the New Year’s fiscal cliff compromise saying Republicans had given in. Instead, it is becoming clear that the early concession by Republicans in the tax measure (which made the Bush Tax Cuts permanent for 99% of Americans) has allowed them to regain the moral high ground on fiscal policy. It also was the beginning of a long term strategy to move this battle to friendlier turf on which to fight, as they are now doing. The same detractors now wish to interrupt this momentum for another futile principled stand.
Principled stands without strategic plans for victory often result in the funerals of battlefield heroes. Sometimes the plan needs to be to engage in battle with the goal to live to fight another day. That next fight will be with the budget proposal in the Senate, and will take place over the next six months. And having the fight the proper way – via the long neglected budget process – will finally reveal the needed contrast between Republican and Democratic solutions to the country’s fiscal issues in stark, clear numbers.