WASHINGTON -- In American revolutions, power generally flows to moderate revolutionaries. Sam Adams may get things started, but it is John who gets things done.
With more than 80 freshmen House Republicans ready to demolish the Capitol but unable to find its washrooms, influence will shift to leaders (think Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Tom Price) who possess both tea party credibility and governing experience. Their mix of boldness and discretion will determine much about the outcome of the conservative uprising of 2010. They have a serious, intricate plan -- in which much can go wrong.
First, House Republicans will produce a shock-and-awe budget, rolling back federal spending to 2008 levels -- undoing a 24 percent increase in discretionary spending. Ryan will set the overall targets. Appropriators will abandon scalpels for cleavers. The goal is reset the political clock -- to produce a pre-Obama budget.
Given the tightness of the budget squeeze, many interest groups will squeal, and some of the squealing will be justified. But the stakes of this Republican exercise are relatively low. There is no chance a House Republican budget would be approved by the Senate or signed by President Obama. The purpose is to indicate Republican seriousness to tea party voters and to dramatize the large expansion of government during the short Obama era. The likely outcome of a budget conflict with Democrats is a continuing resolution freezing federal spending at 2010 levels, perhaps with a small, across-the-board reduction.
Second, House Republicans will pursue a broad offensive against Obama's health care reform. Given the election outcome and public polling on the issue, Republicans are feeling no fear or hesitance. The House will vote for repeal -- which, once again, will go nowhere with the Senate or the president. So Republicans will try to block funding for the implementation of health care reform. And they are planning a series of high-profile oversight hearings to highlight the current and likely effects of Obamacare: premium increases, new burdens on state budgets and a higher-than-expected "dumping rate" as employers push their workers into the public health system. The objective here is to make the case for eventual repeal before most of the public subsidies go into effect in 2014, which would entrench the system.