If the budget battle in Congress is truly about reducing America’s massive public debt, then last week’s compromise deal between Republicans and Democrats was undoubtedly a failure.
Clearly, $38 billion in budget cuts over the next six months isn’t going to make much of a dent in a national debt that now exceeds $14 trillion. Many conservative politicians and organizations expressed their displeasure with a bill that they felt didn’t go nearly far enough.
“In the seven days preceding last night’s deal, our nation’s debt increased by $54.1 billion. And now our ‘leaders’ are touting as ‘historic’ the $38.5 billion in spending cuts for the rest of fiscal year 2011,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler said in a written statement. “Leadership requires bold, visionary action in times of crisis. Are we getting bold, visionary leadership in Washington, D.C.? We think the numbers speak for themselves.”
“We have been asked to settle for $39 billion in cuts, even as we continue to fund Planned Parenthood and the implementation of Obamacare,” Representative Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, said.
It’s hard to argue with Meckler, Bachmann or anyone else who observed that the spending cuts agreed upon last week are virtually meaningless in any practical sense. The Tea Party and other conservative groups wanted to see at least $61 billion in cuts before Republicans signed on to yet another stop-gap budget measure. They didn’t get it. Instead, they got a little over half of what they wanted as part of an agreement to push back the threat of a partial government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats continue to try to hammer out a long-term deal. The new deadline is Thursday and representatives of both parties expressed optimism that they will reach a compromise before then.
Republicans were clearly reluctant to allow a government shutdown to happen, as much as that kind of hard-line tactic would have endeared them to their hard-right supporters. The political calculus suggested that the price of annoying a good deal of the middle by shutting down sectors of the government would exceed the good will to be gained on the right. So the threat of a shutdown was out there, but only as a cudgel to force Democrats into some kind of a compromise. And yet, the GOP went “all-in” as far as budget sanity was concerned, sending a clear message to Congress: get this deal done or face the consequences.
The existence of a comprehensive budget-cutting compromise is important, but the conservative push for budget sanity matters as well. It’s somewhat unrealistic to suppose that the Democrat-controlled Senate or President Obama will ever sign on to the kind of deep, meaningful spending cuts that are necessary if America is to remain an economic powerhouse. That will only happen if the GOP takes control of the Senate and White House in 2012, or manages to create a veto-proof majority in the Senate and House if Obama is re-elected. Thus, everything leading up to that election is politics, not change you can believe in.
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