Defending Defense: How the GOP Can Escape the Budget Box Canyon

Posted: Dec 05, 2012 9:20 AM

Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wowed the Beltway conservatives last night, which is a little bit like the British cheering a successful evacuation from Dunkirk. The GOP indeed lives to fight another day, and that day will be here quickly as 2014’s candidates are already declaring –Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito for the United States Senate in West Virginia and former Governor Michael Rounds for the same in South Dakota.

Which weights the negotiations over the fiscal cliff with a great deal of political as well as economic significance. The parties purport to care about the latter, but they are really striving about the former, and President Obama has won the first few rounds of positioning because, once again, the GOP took a few weeks off and the president never sleeps when it comes to politics.

The president has defined “winning”: any rate hike for the upper income group(s). The Republicans have not defined “winning,” so anything they agree to won’t be labeled as much. This is where the Speaker and Leader McConnell need to retool, and quickly.

One smart way to define a GOP “win” that doesn’t conflict with the president’s announced goal is to take up the traditional role of the party and defend defense. Yesterday I brought a series of defensniks on the program to explain the very dire consequences to the Pentagon of “going over the cliff. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Max Boot, AEI’s Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt and David Langstaff, president and CEO of TASC, Inc. all reviewed the incredible damage done to our national security by deep cuts already imposed and the worse damage that awaits any across-the-board cuts imposed by fiscal brinksmanship and “sequestration.”

If Boehner and McConnell define “winning” in the negotiations as preserving 2012’s level of Defense spending for 2013, they can bring that home and in doing so not only protect the nation’s defenses but begin to reassert the national security brand of the GOP.

There are other markers that could be collected. A caller to the program yesterday suggested that for every hike in the upper bracket a cut in the lower bracket be accomplished. That is a very useful idea with a compelling narrative.

As is a one-year hike in the eligibility age for Medicare or in the retirement age for Social Security. There are lots of markers, but the GOP has to put them down. Deep entitlement reform can and should wait for a new Congress with a new mandate, as should the debt limit negotiations. Massive changes shouldn't be imposed by lame duck legislators.

As Powerline’s John Hinderaker said on my show yesterday, no one knows what the GOP wants, and the uncertainty is crippling the Congressional caucus’ ability to declare any result to be other than a triumph for the president. In reality there is little damage done to losing the first inning or quarter of a long game (except on the defense front) but memories linger and momentum builds. Better to get out with a tie or at least with the president holding only a narrow lead.

So here’s hoping the GOP escapes the box canyon of its own design quickly. Give the president an increase in the top rate, and get some concessions in return, concessions that define the party and which can easily be communicated, even through the filter of the president’s palace guard, the MSM.

Defend defense. That is a great place to start the rebuilding. That, and with many more speeches like those given last night by 2016’s likely finalists. More on that subject over at

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