Conservatives seem to be evenly divided on whether or not to support House Speaker John Boehner's budgetary plan to avoid a debt ceiling impasse. But the level of vitriol back and forth is increasing, with one side calling the other "crazy" and the other shouting back "RINOs," or Republicans in name only.
I believe both sides are acting honorably; they mostly agree on goals and disagree on tactics. But it's a bit more complicated than that. They also differ somewhat in their operating assumptions.
Those supporting the Boehner plan are convinced that if a deal is not done, our credit rating will be downgraded, financial chaos will ensue and Republicans will take the hit in 2012, greatly increasing Obama's re-election prospects. Opponents appear less convinced either that the nation will collapse upon a credit downgrade or that if it does, Republicans will take the sole political hit for it.
I wish we could muster half the concern over the national debt as we are over the debt ceiling. In a more rational world, the credit agencies would be threatening to downgrade our rating far more for our failure to address the debt than for our failure with the debt ceiling.
Opponents note that Obama, despite his fear-mongering to the contrary, has admitted that a ceiling impasse would not force the nation to default on its essential obligations. Moreover, even if we are downgraded, it might finally force us into action to address the national debt -- the real existential crisis facing the nation. Ever since the Troubled Asset Relief Program, we've been scurrying with outstretched fingers from one hole in the dike to the next, with virtually no progress on the looming debt itself. Opponents fear this continued deferral might be desensitizing us by creating the illusion that this nation is financially invincible and could continue on this course with impunity.
Opponents are also concerned that by agreeing to a bill that would include relatively minimal spending cuts upfront, do nothing in its first phase to address entitlements, still operate on baseline budgeting assumptions and delegate to a bipartisan group the task of defining specific cuts, we might actually be harming our chances for 2012 by dispiriting the conservative base and by arguably becoming co-owners of the current economic malaise, assuming Democrats would end up signing on to such a plan.
Finally, opponents wonder at what point supporters will draw the line if the rationale for supporting the Boehner plan is that it's the best deal we can possibly get with the Democrats and that if we don't do it, the GOP will be blamed. But we've heard the Democrats won't agree to pass it, so what else will we compromise on? A Senate-diluted version of Boehner's plan? A tax increase? Democrats can demagogue that issue with the best of them. Opponents believe that Republicans are bidding against themselves by offering one plan after another and have waited too long to force Obama into action. And while supporters assume the GOP will avert blame if it passes the Boehner bill, the Democrats are counting on just the opposite.
We've got to quit assuming that Republicans would take the sole hit for any impasse, especially because Democrats are mainly responsible for the delay. Let's have a little more faith in ourselves. After all, research shows that voters didn't really blame the GOP as much as has been suggested for the 1995-96 government shutdown. Regardless, Republicans could make better use of communications to marshal the support of the people to force congressional Democrats at least, if not Obama, to do the right thing.
The reality is that none of this would be occurring if this president were acting in good faith on our debt crisis. To this day, he has offered no plan. He has sat back and demanded, like a tyrant, that Congress bring plans to him, which it has, and he has cavalierly rejected them.
He refuses to take responsibility for his economy. He defiantly opposes meaningful spending cuts and entitlement reform and uses his bully pulpit to divide and scare the nation.
I believe that Boehner and proponents of his plan are acting honorably. Tons of conservatives I respect support the plan, including Paul Ryan and Allen West.
If a bill is passed, let's pray that we conservatives will wake up the very next day and start hammering away at the overarching debt crisis and do a better job of taking our case to the people. We are not one another's enemies.
In the meantime, let's also pray for Speaker Boehner and his colleagues, who are in the arena fighting this battle, even if we all don't agree with every action they take.