The GOP did little between the election and Tuesday's passage of the tax bill to explain that the major issue facing the country is spending.
Much of the time was spent silent --wounds being nursed etc-- or talking of grand bargains or rumors of secret meetings at the White House. The Speaker, with the biggest platform not belonging to the president, didn't use it at all. The Manhattan-Beltway media elite, in love with the confrontation between the president and the Speaker, paid no attention to spending, and after the horror of Newtown covered almost nothing else.
Now the table is clear and the clock running down to the moment when the Treasury cannot borrow any more money. That is also the moment that the Defense Department-smashing sequester hits. The GOP has 60 days to outline and argue for its vision of what has to be done, especially with regards to entitlements.
It needs to be concise. It needs to be repeated. The consequences to individuals have to be spelled out.
"Social Security needs a new retirement age. Medicare needs a new eligibility age. Medicaid needs a cap. They all need reform to their cost-of-living escalators."
What also needs repeating is that there will be no more tax hikes. The president got what he campaigned for, and the revenue flowing into the government is enormous.
"Revenue to the federal government was $___ in 2008 and $____ in 2012, and is likely to be $____ in 2013. We don't have a revenue problem.
Next, the consequence of the spending --past, present, and future-- is a massive crisis. The GOP needs to spell out, again and again, how much we are paying in interest charges on that accumulated debt and what will happen to that cost as interest rates rise. Crucially, the GOP must explain what will happen when the debt limit is not raised and why it is willing to accept those consequences.
These are not hard things to do. But they must be done if the country is to be ready for the showdown in late February.
Yesterday's deal, as the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein put it, was "objectively bad and relatively good." Hats off to Mitch McConnell for getting the GOP out of the box canyon and avoiding a massive tax hike for every American which I think the president was hoping would occur and which he could blame on the GOP.
The tax hike on people making more than $450,000 a year was a red herring, an absurd cul-de-sac for the public debate to go 'round and 'round in, but the GOP never made clear why, never even drove home how much revenue it would raise much less the relative impact such revenue would make.
The GOP needs to make an argument, repeat an argument and grow hoarse making the argument. Perhaps with the turn of the calendar it will do so. Every day that you don't see or hear one of the Republican big guns making these arguments, with the specifics attached, is a lost day. And ever lost day is bad news for the country headed towards the debt cliff.