An un-civil war within the Republican Party rages on, with the latest battle being fought over a proposed budget deal.
The bargain was made by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, formerly a hero of the right, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, still a heroine of the left, but there is no such compromise among the various sorts of conservatives. All of the crazed anarchist Tea Party radicals, represented by such right-wing talk radio ranters as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, think the deal is a capitulation to Obama’s big spending leviathan of overreaching government, while the weak-kneed, lily-livered RINOs of the elitist back east establishment, represented by such traditional conservative print media as the National Review and the Weekly Standard, reckon the deal is as good as the Republicans are likely to get. Democrats are similarly split between the dope-addled progressives who long for the good old days of trillion dollar deficits and the Clintonian “third way” types who still feel obliged to give lip service to fiscal sanity, but they always seem to come together whenever there are Republicans to be vanquished, so the clash of caricatures in the GOP is getting all the attention.
Being crazed anarchist Tea Party radicals ourselves, but pragmatic and patient by temperament, we have sympathy for both sides of the Republican debate.
The deal is, without doubt, far less than we would hope for. It weakens the sequester budgets which, for all their faults, have been the only effective restraint on deficit spending during the Obama administration. The cuts that are included will take place in the future, meaning they might not happen at all, while the next two years leading up to the presidential election will see an increase in spending, which will certainly happen. There are tax increases, too, although mostly in the form of user fees, which are slightly more tolerable to a conservative sensibility than other means of taxation, and much of the savings is based on the dubious assumption that the government will start to do a better job of eliminating waste and fraud. Even if one accepts all the assumptions involved in the deal, it’s still light years away from the draconian budget cuts and thorough entitlement reforms needed to set the nation’s finances in some semblance of order.
It is a budget deal, however, and after five years of continuing resolutions that continually handed unprecedented power to a unfettered Obama administration almost any return to the constitutional appropriations process would represent an important improvement. Most of the increases in the sequester budget will go to national defense, still a cause dear to conservative hearts, and 92 percent of the sequester remains in place. Even with the increases in discretionary spending, the total budget for 2014 and 2015 will still be less than that the proposal that made Ryan a conservative hero and liberal villain right after the Republicans won the House in 2010. There are no income tax increases in the deal, which provides some much needed consternation to the Democrats, and without doubt it is far less than a liberal might hope for.
As much as we’d prefer a better deal, preferably one administered with a chain saw rather than scalpel, it is hard to see how that might be attainable at this unfortunate moment when Democrats control the Senate and the White House and the news and entertainment media. Republican hard-liners are urging the threat of another partial government shut-down, which wouldn’t inconvenience us or the national economy any more than the last one did, but that didn’t force any Democratic concessions then and it probably wouldn’t on the next try. Last time around it was the House that took the shut-down stand while the wise old Senators urged caution, while this time around the Senators are being threatened with primary challenges and are suddenly the more confrontational chamber, but in any case the Democrats will be just as happy to let their opponents take all the blame for whatever horror stories the networks are running on the evening news.
The hard-liners’ damn-the-polls-full-steam-ahead attitude has an undeniable appeal to us, but at a time when the Democrats’ poll numbers are sinking under the weight of Obamacare and all the other failures of Obamaism there is an equally irresistible temptation to sit back and let them take the blame for a change. Maybe we’re just tired out from all the political battles, or the wallpaper-stripping we’ve been doing for an old friend who bought a new home, but we’re inclined to take what we can get and rest up for another day. Both sides of the intra-party dispute have been intemperate in their squabble over an issue that most voters are too busy with Christmas shopping and National Football League games to care about, but if they can stave off self-destruction for another 11 months or so they have a good chance of making significant gains in next year’s mid-term elections that could make those planned cuts a reality. They might even use those gains to win more crucial victories in 2016.
One can only hope that it won’t be too late, but taking what we can get now might allow us to get what we want in the future.
— Bud Norman