There are two ways of looking at the most recent budget deal being pushed by Paul Ryan and Pat Murray. The first is on the basis of policy, while the second is on the basis of politics.
From a policy standpoint, it makes very modest changes to the budget. It breaks the spending levels set by the sequester to a small degree. As some of this will provide relief to a military that is spread too thin, even many conservatives might support this measure. It also makes some targeted cuts in spending, and raises some government fees, but does not increase taxes. From a policy standpoint, it is not necessarily a bad deal. As Representative Tom Price said,
They’ve gotta take a peek at it. I think this is an agreement that ought to be supported. Because it gets us out of lurching from crisis to crisis, it saves more money over the 10-year budget window than current law does.
However, even from a policy standpoint, there is at least one good reason for conservatives to reject this agreement. Contrary to many reports, the agreement does not decrease federal spending. Rather, it decreases the rate of spending growth over the next ten years. Federal spending will increase under this agreement.
While the agreement might not be all that terrible from a policy standpoint, from a political standpoint, the agreement is nonsensical in every way. The agreement serves only one purpose: to protect the status quo. We may as well call it, “The Incumbent Protection Act.” In this light, perhaps the biggest critic of the agreement is former Reagan budget director David Stockman. Stockman pointed out that the agreement delays any substantive action on the budget crisis until the beginning of the 2016 election campaign season, when nothing will likely be done:
First, let’s be clear—it’s a joke and betrayal. It’s the final surrender of the House Republican leadership to Beltway politics and kicking the can and ignoring the budget monster that’s hurtling down the road.
This is completely right. It guarantees that the federal budget will not be dealt with anytime soon. It also takes the federal budget largely off the table as a campaign issue both in 2014 and in 2016. As the federal budget is a wedge issue that plays to the GOP’s strengths, effectively the GOP is shooting itself in the foot.
Further, Obama currently has a 38% approval rating in the polls, and this also plays the GOP’s advantage in 2014. However, even though Obama had precious little to do with the agreement, he has already began claiming some degree of victory, and the agreement turns the spotlight away from his budgetary failures. This agreement will help Obama in the polls. John Boehner and the GOP leadership in the House could argue that the agreement will also help Congress’s failing poll numbers and thus increase the GOP’s chances for big gains in 2014. However, this is simply not true. People vote for individual House candidates and against the presidential incumbent: They don’t vote for Congress. Congress’s poll numbers rarely if ever play a part in House elections, unless it is to make people want to throw the bums out. Thus, the agreement does not help the GOP in 2014–it helps incumbents, of both parties.
It is truly astonishing that Boehner would be politically slow-witted enough to support this agreement. However, not only is he in support of the agreement, he has gone to war with conservatives who have expressed reservations about it. Instead of giving critics in his own party the benefit of a doubt as to their motivations, he accused them of merely wanting to play politics:
They’re using the American people for their own purposes. This is ridiculous.
Here is where we now stand: If the House passes this agreement, the sequester will be broken and the federal budget will be taken off the table as an election issue. Further, the Democrats will be able to say that,
- The GOP is no different from the Democrats on federal spending, as both groups have voted to raise the deficit.
- The GOP supports “revenue enhancements”, and therefore new taxes, because of provisions in the agreement for raising new federal fees.
- Conservatives who support lower taxes and lower government spending are merely playing politics, and we know this because Boehner told us so.
The GOP and conservatives will have effectively surrendered, without the other side even having fired a shot. Why would anyone in their right mind support such an agreement?