Four months ago the nation's voters gave John Boehner and the House GOP he leads a massive mandate to change the fiscal direction of the United States.
Nothing could have been clearer from the red tide that swelled and rolled across the country. The "stimulus" and the bailouts were disgusting average Americans, and Obamacare's massive new costs were frightening them and their employers.
"Go back to D.C. and start cutting --carving really, deep and deeper, down to the bone." That was the message.
Critical masses had come to the recognition that entitlements could not be "sustained" and no one wanted a repeat of the fall of 2008 when financial markets panicked and trillions of dollars of wealth vanished overnight.
Four months later and that newly empowered GOP has done...what, exactly?
They got the minimum two year extension of the Bush tax rates out of President Obama in exchange for billions in unnecessary spending.
And they got $4 billion in cuts in federal spending on the two week stop-gap measure that keeps the government open through mid-March. That's $4 billion out of $3.5 trillion in federal spending in FY 2011. Not to worry, the GOP is demanding a full $60 billion in cuts from that $3.5 trillion. There are crucial "limiting amendments" in the package such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood and NPR as well as the hobbling of EPA's global warming zealots and of Obamacare's regulatory roll-out, but expect the round-heeled among the Republicans to give back all or most of these important gains and then be surprised by the fury in their ranks.
No word at all yet on the specifics of the House budget proposal for FY 2012. Not even an announcement of a schedule. After all, it is only March. Why hurry?
There hasn't even been the hint of the specifics of one major cut ahead, not a whisper of what the public should be debating and tossing around, as is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and California. The House GOP leadership is in Dick Cheney's old "undisclosed location" wondering what to do next. As recently as Tuesday House Budget Committee co-chair Scott Garrett told me to look to April for the outline. April! Thank god these congressmen aren't generals in a war.
April is "still the game plan," Garrett told me. "And we’ll... it’s as I say, still a work in progress, and that’ll keep us right on line of where we have to be, and keep us right on line on where the normal course of procedure is on the budget."
Garrett's one of the good guys, one of the Republican Study Committee's budget hawks, but he too lacks any sense of the initiative passing away as the left gears up and recovers its balance from November's shellacking.
Now the pollsters are showing up with their standard "the public doesn't want any big cuts to entitlements"
Speaker Boehner is on Meet the Press getting chummy with David Gregory who is asking him about birthers and Eric Cantor is yukking it up with Wolf Blitzer but not one member of the House leadership made it to Phoenix this past weekend to attend the Tea Party Patriots Summit, which is the finest example of not dancing with the one that brung you I can recall.
The old House guard is stuck in 1995, fighting the Battle of Newt's Hill, haunted by the casualties --even though the House was not lost then and the Clinton presidency was saved by Ross Perot and Bob Dole. The remnants of the GOP class of 1994 learned nothing, apparently, and forgot everything they should have remembered, including the part about shaping the political battlefield with specific proposals made far in advance of actual votes and demanding your opponents counter.
Like the dog that finally caught the ice cream truck it had been chasing all these years, the House GOP is perplexed and frozen, unwilling to declare what needs to be done.
Unwilling, it seems, to lead.
Perhaps Scott Walker, John Kasich and Chris Christie could spend a day with the House GOP and lay out for them what it takes, including a willingness to get into the fray and make the case even if 49% of the audience is booing.