This column by ACRU General Counsel and Policy Director for the CCPP Peter Ferrara was published March 21, 2011 on PajamasMedia.com.
The House Republican leadership needs to get over their paralyzing fear of a government shutdown, which is based on the liberal media narrative of the politics of the 1995 shutdown. That shutdown eventually transformed annual $200 billion deficits for more than a decade into $560 billion in budget surpluses over four years. That resulted because Clinton caved in to Republican budget cut demands, and even to Republican tax cuts that spurred the economy and long term revenue growth. The shutdown was followed by the first reelection of a Republican House majority in two thirds of a century, with the Republican Senate majority reelected as well.
Today the budget crisis is far worse. President Obama’s own budget admits that he will more than double the national debt in just one term of office, with an admitted budget deficit this year of $1.645 trillion, the highest anywhere in world history by several times over. Friday the Congressional Budget Office issued a report concluding that federal deficits over the next 10 years under President Obama’s budget would soar by nearly a third more than he estimated, totaling nearly $10 trillion over those 10 years, which would nearly double the national debt again to $21 billion by 2021.
And that assumes trillions in tax increases on the nation’s employers and investors and already overtaxed businesses that will never produce anywhere near the projected revenues. It also assumes no further recessions over the next 10 years, and stable interest rates on all those trillions in national debt.
Yet the position of President Obama and Congressional Democrats is that they will not agree to any budget cuts of any consequence. With a budget deficit this year of $1,645 billion, and total federal spending of $3,819 billion, the Democrats are insisting they could not accept more than $10 billion in spending cuts. CBO’s Friday report indicates that the president’s budget overall increases the deficit for this year by $26 billion.
The Republican leadership is losing their own base by displaying too much of a ready willingness to compromise, while Obama and the Democrats are not losing any support from their spending addicted political machine. The Republicans need to go on the offensive to reverse this political dynamic.
They must pass a continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of this fiscal year, which goes to September 30, with at least their original $100 billion in budget cuts for the year. No more 2 or 3 week extensions. Then fan out across the country and take their case to the people.
Harry Reid and the Democrat-controlled Senate have never done anything to fund the government for this year. They failed to even pass a budget last year, as required by law. They failed to pass appropriations bills for this year. And if they fail even to pass a CR to keep the government functioning in its blind disgraceful mode without even a budget, then the Democrat responsibility for the resulting government shutdown will be so obvious that even the Congressional Republican leadership will be able to explain it. Instead of struggling in obvious fear to avoid a government shutdown at all costs, Republicans need to pursue a strategy based on the assumption that there will be a government shutdown and treat the public as adults who are paying attention, and who must decide whether they want to sink America in a swamp of overwhelming deficits and debt.
House Republicans need to recognize that for all discretionary spending, it is they who hold the power and the high cards. It is not they who must get any cuts to such spending approved by the Senate and the president. It is the Senate and the president who must get the House to approve every line item of discretionary spending. If the House doesn’t vote to approve it, it doesn’t get funded. To drive this point home, John Boehner and Eric Cantor should send a letter to whatever passes for the leadership at NPR these days, cc Barack Obama and Harry Reid, explaining that there will be no further votes on the floor of the House at any time authorizing the federal government to borrow more money from the Chinese to fund NPR, and the organization needs to take whatever steps are necessary to secure its own future funding. Let that be a test of public opinion.
But listening even to conservative commentators there seems to be precious little recognition among the public that this is only round 1 of the budget fight. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget is not even out yet, and that is when the real budget fight begins The Republican leadership should have been explaining this as well.
That budget needs to inspire the grassroots by taking spending for every budget line item, not just discretionary spending, back to 2007 budget levels, except for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and of course interest on the national debt. That was just 4 years ago and America survived just fine then at those levels of federal spending. That would save roughly $500 billion in year one, and provide the foundation for balancing the entire budget within a reasonable time. The House should pass appropriations bills to implement this budget, and then again fan out across the country and take its case to the people.
This would frame the issue in the Republicans’ favor, for to resist them President Obama, Harry Reid, and the rest of the Democrats would have to publicly fight for higher federal spending, deficits, and debt. The Tea Party would then have its target clearly exposed.
If the Democrats can’t get their act together to pass a reasonable CR for this year and appropriations bills for next year that put the federal budget on a path to balance within a reasonable time, then the government can just shut down and stay shut down until the election, when the people can decide. There are big virtues to shutting the Obama administration down until the election. No funding for the EPA to implement cap and trade by regulation. No funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement ObamaCare. ObamaCare implementation funding may have been buried in the ObamaCare bill itself. But without continuing funding to keep the administrative offices open at HHS and elsewhere, there will be no one functioning to carry the implementation out.
In a shutdown impasse, House Republicans can continue to pass CRs and appropriations bills to fund the government, and demand to know why the Democrats won’t do their job and fund essential government services. They can pass bills to fund particular sensitive parts of the government. One bill can fund the federal courts. Another bill can fund the Social Security Administration.
That last one can be accompanied by another Boehner letter, this one to President Obama, informing him that the SSA has been funded and if he doesn’t provide for sending out the Social Security checks the House will move articles of impeachment over the issue. Let Harry Reid and Senate Democrats wrestle over that one in the context of seniors not getting Social Security checks.