So what happens if the cuts proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., prove unacceptable to the Senate and the president? What if there is no compromise? What if nobody gives in?
A budget deadlock, played out over months, will doom President Obama and assure his defeat. But an easily won compromise will help him get re-elected.
The central question in Obama's bid for a second term is: Will the issues that doomed his party in 2010 still be the key questions in 2012? If they are, we already know how the election will come out. If they are not, Obama can win.
When the president says he does not "want to re-fight the battles of the past two years," he means that he embraces this reality. He doesn't want Obamacare, high spending, huge deficits, cap and trade, card check and the like to be the items of discussion in the 2012 election.
But he has failed to put forward a compelling agenda for the next two years. That was the essential defect of his State of the Union speech. Nobody is going to storm any barricades for high-speed rail and more R&D spending.
If the Republicans hold firm in demanding huge spending cuts and Obama does not give in, the question of whether or not to cut spending will dominate the nation's political discourse for months on end and will spill over into the 2012 election.
To assure that it will, the Republicans should hold firm to their budget spending cuts without surrender or compromise. If necessary, it is OK to vote a few very short term continuing resolutions to keep the government open for a few weeks at a time, always keeping on the pressure.
If Obama offers a half a loaf, the GOP should spurn it for weeks and months. Then, rather than actually shut down the government, let them accept some variant of their proposed cuts but only give in return a few more weeks time, at which point the issue will be re-litigated. Don't go for Armageddon. Just keep fighting the battle.
Same with the debt limit. Extend it for a few hundred billion dollars and then go back for more cuts in return for a further extension. Make Obama pay for each continuing resolution and each debt limit hike with more cuts to spending.
Always avoid cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Save those for after 2012. For now, focus on Medicaid block granting and discretionary spending (including some modest cuts in defense).
And don't just demand spending cuts. Go for defunding of Obamacare, blocking the EPA from carbon taxation and regulation, a ban on card check unionization, and constraints on the FCC's regulation of the Internet and talk radio. Put those items on the table each time, each session.
Every time the issues come up, every time the cuts are litigated, Obama's efforts to appear to be a centrist will be frustrated. Time and again, he will have to oppose spending cuts. Over and over, he will come across as the liberal he is, battling for each dime and opposing any defunding.
Obama's campaign strategy has two elements: Change the subject from the 09-10 agenda, and move to the center. A tough, determined Republican budget offensive, embracing all these elements and fought in this guerilla style, will frustrate both and lead to his defeat.