George McClellan was the dashing commander of the Army of the Potomac at the start of the Civil War, whom the troops loved but whom Abraham Lincoln scorned as timid and quick to retreat.
Perhaps now even Steelers fans will understand why I have taken to calling the House Republican the McClellan Republicans –always preparing to fight but never quite getting to the political battlefield that is the great spending debate.
Speaker John Boehner, GOP Leader Eric Cantor and GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy have been in their saddles since November 2, and even though their formal power only arrived in January, they have had more than four months to prepare the debate over the CR, the debt ceiling and the FY 2012 budget.
If they prepared at all they prepared poorly, concentrating on symbolic gestures and focusing on procedural niceties like “open rules” rather than closing with the Democrats and forcing the first of the many showdowns ahead on spending. The phony cuts assembled thus far –the GOP talking points say $8 billion has been sawed from the federal budget—have not resulted in a single lay-off or program closure. One could look for months and see no effect from these paper cuts.
The Tea Party volunteers and the GOP activist base worked all through 2010 to provide the House GOP leadership with an army of freshmen, but now the Speaker refuses to use it. In early 1862 Lincoln remarked about his ever-preparing, never-moving general that "[I]f General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.” This is where the Tea party patriots find themselves now, and not just them but millions of voters who see in Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich the model of political leadership they expected and who are pressing for the Speaker to get to the inevitable confrontation.
There are three big battles ahead and the first is over the Continuing Resolution. The GOP has decisively lost rounds one and two in the CR battle, and all the talking points in the world won’t change that. The GOP has achieved nothing in the way of meaningful spending reductions, and when the vast additional spending splurge of late 2010 is factored in, we are far further behind the fiscal eight ball than when the mandate to cut spending was secured in November.