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A Conservative Case for the Debt Deal -- Plus: Does Boehner Have the Votes?

House Speaker John Boehner reportedly informed ABC's Diane Sawyer he has the votes to pass The Grand Deal later this evening.  Or does he?  We'll find out tonight, around 6:30pm ET -- probably.  Here's an updated whip count.  Boehner, Cantor, Pelosi, and Steny Hoyer are all on board, so prospects for passage are high. 


As I wrote earlier, there are plenty of citizens, activists, interest groups, and politicians who detest this eleventh-hour deal.  It certainly contains detestable elements, including its disproportionate defense cuts, its dubious and back-loaded spending reductions, and its risible scheme that allows Democrats to "deem" two years' worth of budgets as "passed" -- even though they'll never be introduced.  Nevertheless, there are quite a few conservatives lining up behind the deal, including Allen West, Mike Pence, and Paul Ryan.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board, which drew the ire of Tea Party conservatives last week by comparing them to "hobbits," hails the proposed accord as a "Tea Party Triumph:"

The big picture is that the deal is a victory for the cause of smaller government, arguably the biggest since welfare reform in 1996. Most bipartisan budget deals trade tax increases that are immediate for spending cuts that turn out to be fictional. This one includes no immediate tax increases, despite President Obama's demand as recently as last Monday. The immediate spending cuts are real, if smaller than we'd prefer, and the longer-term cuts could be real if Republicans hold Congress and continue to enforce the deal's spending caps.

The same supposedly conservative Republicans and their talk radio minders may denounce this deal as a sellout, but we'll be charitable and assume they've climbed so far out on the political ledge they don't know how to climb back without admitting they were wrong. They're right that this deal doesn't "solve" our fiscal crisis, but no such deal is possible as long as liberals run the Senate and White House.

The debt ceiling is a political hostage the GOP could never afford to shoot, and this deal is about the best Republicans could have hoped for given that the limit had to be raised. The Jim DeMint-Michele Bachmann-Sean Hannity alternative of refusing to raise the debt limit without a balanced-budget amendment and betting that Mr. Obama would get all the blame vanishes upon contact with any thought. Sooner or later the GOP had to give up the hostage. Tea partiers will do more for their cause by applauding this victory and working toward the next, rather than diminishing what they've accomplished because it didn't solve every fiscal problem in one impossible swoop.


The same Journal editorial does a pretty good job of summarizing the bill's contents, as does this post from the indispensable Keith Hennessey.  One major pressure point about this agreement is the so-called "Super Committee," which would be comprised of 12 members of Congress -- six from each party.  Some worry this committee could fast-track tax increases.  I think these concerns are exaggerated for three reasons: (1) At least one of the six Republican members would have to sign off on tax hikes for that possibility to even approach becoming law.  Boehner and McConnell would do themselves an enormous favor by announcing the composition of their delegation now.  As I've said before, names like "Ryan," "Rubio," and "Toomey" would be reassuring.  (2) Even if one of the Republican committeeman caves, the group's recommendations would still be subject to Congressional approval.  A deal with tax hikes will not survive the GOP-held House.  (3) There's an in-the-weeds budget baseline explanation for why the committee would probably leave taxes alone.  Josh Barro isn't convinced of this point, nor am I.

So where does all this leave conservatives?  For the reasons discussed at the top of this post (and in my previous offering), there are ample reasons to dislike the bill.  I fully appreciate why some conservatives feel compelled to resist it, and  I share several of their concerns.  At the end of the day, however, I think this flawed compromise is acceptable.  Remember, Republicans entered this fight with dual goals: Reducing spending (on dollar-for-dollar basis, compared to the debt limit increase), and beating back tax increases.  This bill achieves both ends.  It also forces a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment, keeps the crucial national discussion about entitlement reform on the front burner, and requires President Obama to formally request two more debt ceiling increases prior to the 2012 election.


All that said, I understand that it emphatically does not solve the problem.  As Paul Ryan wrote today, meaningful change requires a health care overhaul that reforms Medicare and Medicaid and abolishes Obamacare.  But given the characters who control the White House and Senate, the notion of implementing effective conservative solutions is a pipe dream right now.  The compromise under consideration shifts the discussion from "revenues" to spending cuts and reforms, reduces spending at the margins, and breaks Democrats' full-court-press for tax hikes. On balance, this flawed deal advances the cause, in my estimation.  The true prize sits atop Mt. 2012.  Conservatives should fix their eyes on it, unite, and scale that cliff together.

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