The Republicans did not win this budget fight, but the cuts they were able to extract illustrate, ironically, that Democrats are finally on the defensive. Scorekeeping aside, we must build on this non-victory because it was also a Democratic retreat.
Last week, I argued that the GOP should not cave on the budget negotiations for many reasons, including that today is not 1995-96. Things are so much different now, especially because of the existential threat to the republic that the exploding national debt represents.
Not surprisingly, my position didn't prevail. The Republicans reneged on their promise to cut $100 billion (or the so-called pro rata equivalent of that, $61 billion) for the remainder of the fiscal year.
They caved because they apparently bought into the conventional wisdom that a government shutdown would be blamed on mean-spirited Republicans. Folks, if that's true, then why did the Democrats, who are in delusional denial about the debt crisis, agree to $38.5 billion in cuts?
If Democrats were as cocksure that the public would blame the GOP for a shutdown and punish its members accordingly, then why didn't they just avoid infuriating their base and hold fast at $6.2 billion in cuts or whatever farcical number they had proposed?
The answer is that they got pummeled in the November elections, and the public mood is overwhelmingly inclined toward getting this debt crisis under control. What Democrats would not compromise on, which illustrates just how much their party has degenerated, was the public funding of Planned Parenthood. That was nonnegotiable because, just as with unions, they'll never cut off funds to a group that in turn funds them.
So though I'm not happy about the result, there is a silver lining, and I hope Republicans will recognize it and build on it rather than glean the wrong lessons from the just-ended budget fight.
The correct lessons are: Democrats are on the defensive, and they know it, so the GOP must use its leverage wisely. We will not reverse our national debt crisis through bipartisan compromise, because half-measures won't do and half-measures, nay, quarter-measures are the most we can ever expect to squeeze out of the Democrats. The half-measure resolution of the just-ended budget skirmish is an example. If we think Democrats got nasty this time, just imagine what they'll say about meaningful entitlement reform.
It's true that the real battle will be over the long-term budget proposals -- Paul Ryan's vs. the Democrats'. But unless our side enters this war intending to defeat the demagogues rather than split the baby in half, we might as well start preparing for European-style austerity.
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