Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts on the Averted Shutdown

Anyone who read my last post may have inferred that I was hoping for a government shutdown. They would have inferred correctly.

Right now I have mixed emotions about the eleventh hour compromise that was struck between John Boehner and Harry Reid…but I am leaning towards believing that it was, on balance, a positive.

A recent caller to Bill Bennett’s radio show pointed out that the reason Democrats win so many legislative battles is “they’re willing to die on the hill.” It was because of that willingness that Democrats passed Obamacare: They knew it was enormously unpopular and they knew passing it might cost them their jobs, but they passed it anyway because they believed the cause it represented was worth sacrificing their careers for. Conversely, Republican officeholders have a discouraging tendency to compromise their principles for fear of negative publicity, even though years of compromise have led to no reduction in negative publicity. As a result, the leftist agenda is almost always being advanced, with the only question being “by how much right now?”

I agree with the caller and have felt that way for years. And therefore, when the Boehner-Reid negotiations went to stalemate, I began itching for a fight and hoping the Republicans would make like Spaghetti Western heroes by drawing a line in the sand and defending it with “over my dead body” determination. Given the public’s mood when it comes to the size, scope, and spending habits of the federal government, I am convinced Republicans would be rewarded at the polls for taking such a stand.

On the other hand, it is true that Republicans control only one-third of the federal government, and therefore do not have anywhere near the numbers they need to get everything they want right now. When you think about it from that perspective, and when you realize Democrats wanted to increase spending and that Obama proposed increasing it by $40 billion, you realize how significant it is that Boehner was able to get the Dems to decrease spending by more than $38 billion.

I can not think of a single time in history that the Democrat Party ever agreed to a reduction in federal spending. But now it has, even while being in control of two-thirds of the federal government. This is a paradigm shift with potentially colossal implications.

And consider this: When Boehner originally sought to cut spending, he proposed doing so to the tune of $32 billion. Only later, after feedback from several first-year congressmen, was the proposed amount of cuts upped to $61 billion. Although the cuts Boehner ultimately achieved were less than the latter amount, it should be noted that they were $6+ billion more than he originally sought…which is a remarkable feat for a politician to accomplish.

And, consider this: A few days before the deal was completed, Reid publicly stated that $33 billion in cuts had been agreed to. This means that between when Reid said that and when he and Boehner inked the deal, Boehner was able to secure an additional $5+ billion in cuts. That is yet another rather remarkable feat for a politician.

Truth be told, if we’re talking simply about the dollars involved, the national debt will hardly be affected by either amount -- $38 billion or $61 billion. Ultimately, much larger cuts are necessary and everyone knows it. But by setting a precedent of the federal government actually lowering its spending (can anybody name the last time that happened?) Boehner & Co. have created an environment in which larger cuts suddenly feel very likely, after having felt impossible only a year ago.

As many Boehner supporters have noted, avoiding a government shutdown (i.e., avoiding the distracting media bonanza and Democrat finger-pointing that would have resulted from it) allows the Republicans to focus on other issues that could go much farther toward bringing the national debt under control. Primary among these are Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposals, which seek structural changes to address runaway entitlement spending -- which is, after all, the main culprit driving our debt crisis.

So, having written all this down to think all this out, I have decided that Boehner & Co. did well in the negotiations over 2011 spending; and that they deserve our support, not our criticism. However, those negotiations were only the first play in the first quarter of a football game that will last four full quarters and likely go to overtime. From here on out Boehner & Co. must continue to ratchet up their intensity, and must become less giving come negotiation time. If they do that, and if we hold them to it while having their back, America will win.

Note: The figures used in this post are public data and widely available, but were obtained from the writings of Andrew Stiles.


Anonymous said...

Am I missing something, last time we had a surplus was under a democratic president. Regan, Bush I & Bush II all ran up the debt, Bush II ran up the debt by starting two wars and cutting taxes at the same time. Unless our hawk friends on the hill get serious about defense and home security we will never balance the budget let alone pay off the debt

JDS said...

Actually, you are missing quite a few things.

1) Congress, not the president, sets the federal the brief surplus that occurred during some of the Clinton years was a result of the Republican-led Congress, not the "democrat president."

2) Along the same lines, you can't blame presidents for having "ran up the debt" when it is Congress that sets the budget.

3) Your comment that "Bush II ran up the debt by starting two wars and cutting taxes" suggests that the tax cuts caused the government to take in less revenue, when in fact the government took in more revenue after the cuts.

And 4)your suggestion that we can't balance the budget unless we "get serious about defense" proves that you have no knowledge of what our government spends money on, because our ENTIRE defense budget is almost $1 trillion per year LESS than our annual deficit. It is entitlement spending that we have to "get serious about" if we are to avoid a collapse of federal finances.