Some conservatives and Tea Parties are criticizing the budget deal Republicans agreed to with Democrats and the Obama administration on Friday. Should they be? It averted a government shutdown, extending funding for government through the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2011. It is the largest spending cut in American history in terms of dollars, $38.5 billion, spending $78.5 billion less than what Obama had originally requested. It actually decreases domestic discretionary spending this year by 4%, setting it at $1.049 trillion. In previous years, domestic discretionary spending increased. It grew by 6% in 2008, 11% in 2009 and 14% in 2010. This budget deal begins to end the stimulus spending binge that began in 2009.
Throughout the negotiations, Tea Parties and Congressional fiscal hawks like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who heads the Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) kept up the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to cut more than the $32 million he had proposed in February. They insisted on the full $61 billion in cuts the House had originally agreed to, which the Senate refused to sign off on. The pressure had some effect; Boehner got the Democrats to come up to $38.5 billion in cuts.
The consensus seems to be that Republicans got the better of the deal. The left is unhappy with the budget deal. Obama was forced to backtrack from calling for a $40 billion spending increase this year to praising the $38.5 billion spending decrease. In a 180 switch, Obama is now touting the tax and spending cuts as a victory.
28 Republicans voted against the budget deal, including Bachman and King. This is a rather small number, considering there are 87 new Republican House members. Pence and several other budget hawks who spoke out strongly against compromising ultimately voted yes.
The Republicans who voted against the bill were not happy that several controversial riders in the bill were stripped out, including a rider added by Pence that would cut the entire $317 million for family planning, barring Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding. Another rider would have prohibited the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and factories. The rider eliminating funding to NPR was also stricken. However, some of the controversial items Republicans gave up in the bill will be brought up separately later as part of the agreement, including votes to repeal Obamacare and eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
The bill kept out an increase in spending for the IRS that was in Obama’s budget. It bans federal and local funding of abortion in the District of Columbia and expands the District’s school voucher program. It puts in new requirements for studies and audits of Obamacare that will make it easier to eliminate the program in the future.
The bill sets the stage for a vote on Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) 2012 budget resolution this week, which will cut $6 trillion from the budget over the next 10 years. That is 58 times more than the $100 billion the House originally wanted. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” will shrink the government to its smallest size since 1950. It terminates the entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid, and includes a repeal of Obamacare. As a resolution, it is nonbinding and does not go to the President for signature, but instead will rely upon the persuasive skills of Ryan to implement.
A budget showdown resulting in a government shutdown down would have likely backfired on Republicans. When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich forced a government shutdown in 1995, the Republicans were blamed. After the government shutdown ended, President Clinton’s approval ratings rose to their highest level ever since he became president. The shutdown was thought to have helped him win reelection in 1996 over Bob Dole. Republicans lost eight seats in the House in 1996, although they gained two Senate seats. Only the long-term result favored Republicans; the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s were passed, paying off more than $450 million in federal debt. Gingrich does admit that a government shutdown this time around should be avoided.
The conservative and Tea Party members of Congress who voted for the budget deal explained that they did so grudgingly. Rep. Jeff Flake, (R-Ariz.), who is running for Senate in 2012 and has the highest ranking in Congress from the fiscal watchdog Club for Growth, voted for the budget deal but said, “A lot of us are disappointed with the level” of spending cuts. “It’s not very big. This is small ball. But you've got to take some cuts where you can get them. These discretionary cuts are important because it takes from the baseline and it compounds year to year."
We elect fiscally conservative leaders to do the best they can for us given the situation they are presented. Is it best to stubbornly refuse to accept only partial gains because they are not as much as we want? Is it more important to stand on a “principle” that provides no gains and ultimately moves us closer to socialism, or is it more principled to realistically settle for a few gains? “Compromise” sounds like a bad word, when it is not always. It was not possible to convince Democrats to accept all of the riders that had been placed in the bill. The Senate and the presidency are controlled by the Democrats.
It would be tremendous to eliminate federal funding for abortion. But if it means a government shutdown which backfires on Republicans, giving Obama an easy reelection and defeating countless other Republican initiatives – many which may involve life issues - then is it really the right battle to fight at this time?
Boehner has pleasantly surprised some conservatives, who have historically seen him as a moderate country club Republican. Unlike prior recent Speakers, he has allowed open debate on spending bills, including discussion of 580 amendments on the FY 2011 budget deal. His lifetime rating with the American Conservative Union is a respectable 94% - higher than Ryan’s. His ability to work with the Tea Parties and pull off the biggest spending cut in history is evidence a powerful new alliance has emerged between Republicans and the Tea Party.
The next big fight in Congress will be over raising the debt ceiling. The U.S. is reaching its $14 trillion legal limit, and debate begins in two weeks. Let’s hope the Tea Party and Boehner A-Team pulls together again to stop an increase of senseless borrowing. It might not be as difficult as it seems since Obama has already flip-flopped once on the issue.