Canny House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier went out of his way to remind me and my audience this week that House Speaker John Boehner was a "devout Roman Catholic." I hadn't forgotten that --indeed I think it is the key to understanding the Ohio Congressman who is third in line to the presidency-- but it was an interesting thing for the Rules Chairman to bring up as he explained the GOP's position in the budget endgame unfolding on the final 2011 appropriations bill. If the Speaker had himself referenced his faith in a conversation with the caucus on one of the four key "riders" --this one to completely defund Planned Parenthood of tax-payer dollars-- that is the sort of statement that his closest colleagues could easily carry on to various platforms.
One of the few among the senior leadership who has been willing to repeatedly defend the House Leadership over the past two months, Dreier has been dutifully pushing the caucus' attempt to argue that the cuts thus far have been the largest in history (they are but they are puny in relation to the problem) and that the most important battle is over the FY 2012 budget not the half year of spending left in 2011. Dreier knows, however, that conservative activists and Tea party volunteers are in no mood to be told to wait until the fall for another showdown over spending. Indeed the entire GOP leadership from the Speaker down knows this, which is why the next ten days will be so revealing about the next ten months and indeed ten years. If the Speaker cannot claim any sort of serious victory now, it will be hard for the base that empowered the Republicans to believe he will ever fight to win later.
I discussed this key strategic moment with columnist-to-the-world Mark Steyn on Thursday's radio show:
HH: Let me play a "what if" with you, Mark Steyn. I have been indicating, if they stopped Obamacare by putting a freeze on the regs, if they stopped the EPA carbon by getting a rider, if they defunded CPB and they defunded Planned Parenthood, okay, then I could live with $45 billion in cuts. I could say okay, you had to give up something. But I don’t think they’re going to get anything. Is there a mix in there that you would be satisfied was a tactically decent answer as they postpone the big fight to 2012?
MS: Yeah, I think that’s the good way to look at it, that if your argument is that 2012 is the big battle, then what you need to do now is lay out some markers that make claim to principles for 2012.