Deal Cut, But Now What?

Mike Needham

4/11/2011 11:47:00 AM - Mike Needham

Late Friday night, Congress agreed to a framework to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. They quickly passed a stopgap measure to keep the government open while they turn the framework into legislative text, which is expected to pass both chambers of Congress.

Since last November’s historic election, conservatives made clear the status quo in Washington is no longer acceptable. Washington “logic” is out; commonsense was in.

More than two months ago, when House leadership announced the intent to cut $32 billion from this year’s budget, conservative lawmakers and activists demanded more. Ultimately, House Republicans produced $61 billion in spending cuts. While they should have done more, it was certainly a step in the right direction and conservatives rallied to their side.

Not surprisingly, President Barack Obama threatened to veto the bill and instead endorsed a bill that cut just a few billion dollars. It was clear President Obama and Senate Democrats – who failed to make the trains run on time when they controlled the entire government – had no interest in enacting real spending cuts. After all, together, they expressed no misgivings as they approved a trillion dollar stimulus and a trillion dollar takeover of our health care system.

Rather than push President Obama and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) to submit a plan, House Republicans mistakenly took them at their word and passed a stopgap funding measure, allowing for further negotiations. Conservatives made clear that stopgap funding measures were not the answer. It was no way to run a country, and it played into the Democrats overall agenda, which was to prolong the battle and limit the spending cuts Congress could enact.

Once again, conservatives rallied and stood behind Members of Congress who took a principled stand. Even though it marked a turning point in the debate, it was unpopular with many inside Washington at the time. One unnamed GOP leadership aide claimed conservatives “weren’t thinking clearly.” One Congressman vented that it “weakened Boehner.”

Conservatives were not surprised when “conventional wisdom” was rebuked late last week, as the deal secured more cuts than most seasoned Washington observers ever expected. As one publication noted, Speaker “Boehner’s strength as a negotiator is that Democrats believe he’s bound by his caucus.”

According to freshman Congressman James Lankford (R-MO), Speaker Boehner told House conservatives he appreciated their principled stand, saying, “I’m hearing out there in the reports that I’m being painted into a corner. I appreciate you guys painting me into a corner, because I was standing here anyway.”

The message for conservative activists is simple: keep encouraging your Members of Congress to stand for conservative principles.

Before the deal was cut on Friday, Speaker Boehner told the media that “we're not going to roll over and sell out the American people like it's been done time and time again here in Washington.” The strong support of conservative activists all across the country empowered House Republicans to hold out, despite a withering press assault coordinated by the likes of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Planned Parenthood.

Without consistent conservative pressure, billions in cuts would never have materialized.

Nonetheless, President Barack Obama is now trying to claim victory. Last month, I wrote that President Obama’s absence from this debate was carefully planned. He was just biding his time, looking to re-emerge at the last minute and play the role of Washington peacemaker and grownup. With the bully pulpit and a sympathetic media, President Obama’s polling number may very well bump up, just as they did in December.

However, unless President Obama is ready to lead on the larger issue of our debt, his poll numbers will fall once again. Remember, the President is trying to claim credit for saving America from a problem he and his fellow Democrats exacerbated. During the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama spent more than the first four years of the Reagan administration. It took from our nation’s founding until 1991 to rack up as much cumulative debt as we have in the last two years.

What Americans just witnessed over the past several weeks is nothing compared to the wrangling, rhetoric and stakes of raising the debt ceiling. America faces enormous challenges. Until President Obama and his Congressional allies accept the need to make dramatic changes to our government, we will continue to struggle at every impasse. Americans should take comfort that their influence is being heard in Washington.