Great leaders rise to the occasion, and just five days ahead of a government shutdown, we know all we need to know about President Obama and Harry Reid’s Senate: They are fundamentally unserious about reining in spending.
With funding for the government set to expire on Friday, you would think there would be a sense of urgency in the White House and in the Senate to get things done. After all, nine days ago, the House passed a bill that would fund the government and cut spending by $61 billion (a miniscule percentage of a $1.5 trillion deficit and nearly $4 trillion total federal budget).
Through this entire debate, the Obama White House has largely been absent. As the House debated proposal, the President issued a veto threat. He did not accompany that veto threat with his own vision for spending cuts. Nor did his budget that he released do anything to tackle the serious long-term issue of entitlements. So much for leadership. At least Mr. Reid has placed cuts on the table, right? Wrong. The Washington Post helpfully points out that Mr. Reid “is playing with figures to conjure up $41 billion in cuts that are largely illusory.” So the Senate Majority Leader is not only failing to lead, but is also “being disingenuous and not very truthful.”
Where does that leave us?
In an effort to avoid a shutdown, House Republicans have offered up a two-week funding measure that would cut about $4 billion in spending. Not only was this a wise move tactically by House Republicans, they also did not compromise on the level of cuts – cutting $4 billion in two weeks is on par with cutting $61 billion over seven months. A spokesman for Mr. Reid was indignant, saying it was “simply” a “two-week version of the reckless measure” passed by House Republicans nine days ago.
Only in Washington could cutting $4 billion be considered reckless when we have a $1.5 trillion deficit. To be clear, these cuts would reduce our deficit by 0.25%. Is Mr. Reid really willing to shutdown the government over one-quarter of one percent? That is the trillion dollar question.
It is worth repeating why we are in this situation to begin with. Last year, when Democrats commanded huge majorities in Congress, they did not even try to pass a budget, let alone individual appropriation measures. Instead, they decided to punt, and pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through March 4 -- this Friday.
The completely irresponsible approach taken by the Obama-Reid-Pelosi trifecta stands in sharp contrast to that of Speaker John Boehner’s House. For most of February, various House committees put together a measure that would not only fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, but also reduce spending by $61 billion. Not only that, but they did so in a very open and transparent manner, allowing dozens of amendments, which allowed the people’s House to set America’s spending priorities.
Of course, the House can and must do more. Many conservatives wanted to see non-security discretionary spending rolled by to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels, as outlined in the Pledge to America. The $61 billion in cuts -- which would decrease our deficit by 4% -- is a laudable first step after decades of runaway and (dare I say) reckless spending.
While the House spent much of February debating how much spending to cut, Mr. Reid’s Senate spent most of February considering a measure to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. When Mr. Reid did weigh in on spending, it was merely to criticize the House's efforts. Being a demagogue is apparently easier than being a negotiator or a budget cutter.
Now, with less than five days before the government shuts down, there finally seems to be some recognition by Senate Democrats that they must enact real – not illusory – cuts because Americans did not vote in November to lock in our government’s reckless levels of spending.
Americans will learn two very important things about their government this week: 1) are Democrats, including the President, willing to make real cuts; and, 2) will Republicans stand their ground on the first round of cuts. I fear for America’s future if the answer to either question is “no.”