From time to time, including during Friday’s Truth in Blogging broadcast, I direct some needling at show orchestrator and Weapons of Mass Discussion co-blogger Matt Hurley, who is a constituent of John Boehner, whom Matt routinely describes as “my congressman, House Speaker, and a great American.” This time, it was to ask, “So when’s Boehner going to sell out?”
It was meant in jest, because I know that Matt is more than a little tired of the reflexive disdain for the Speaker coming from the right, which, though perhaps partially justified, has gotten way out of control.
The possible partial justification is how the hoped-for $100 billion in current fiscal year spending reductions “promised” during the 2010 congressional campaign were prorated to $62 billion, morphed into $30 billion during negotiations, and supposedly ended up being only $300 million by the time all was said and done. More on that in the Update.
Look, I get it. I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. For longer than I’ve been alive — heck, going back to before my father was born — they’ve been figuring out ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
With just about the sole exceptions being the eight glorious years of Ronald Reagan and a brief period during 2003, Washington Republicans have been like the Cubs for as long as I’ve been following the news. You think they really mean it about holding out for their principles — and they cave.
The most notorious cave was during the 1994 government shutdown. Republicans led by House Speaker and now supposedly qualified critic Newt Gingrich had the Clinton administration on the ropes — and a GOP majority in the Senate. As We The People Convention speaker and Wall Street Journal reporter John Fund reminded attendees last week, Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulous, who would seem to have no motivation to fudge in this instance, wrote in his late 1990s book that Team Clinton was on the edge of caving during the shutdown — when Senate Majority leader Bob Dole decided that it couldn’t go on any longer. Gingrich apparently felt he had lost his leverage, and went along. Though the early years of the GOP-led Congress were marked by a few years of (relatively speaking) spending control and gave people like John Kasich and others the ability to get the country to a balanced budget for the first time in 30 years in later in the decade, the PR battle was lost.
John Boehner doesn’t have a GOP majority to lean on in the Senate (given that Mitch McConnell would be the majority leader, that may be a good thing in any event). Boehner still faces a hostile government-media complex — with a bigger government and far more hostile establishment press — than did Gingrich and Dole. In theory, he has the center-right New Media on his side, but too many of “us” are worse than Cub fans, who at least hold out hope until the final out in the ninth inning. Too many in the center-right start booing, leave the game and cry out for the manager to be fired when we’re only halfway, if that, through the game.
The reax to what was leaking out last night before the Speaker issued his statement went way over the top. Based primarily on items coming from the Wall Street Journal (since updated), whose beat reporters are often no better than Associated Press or Washington Post hacks (even if the Editorial Board’s output is usually pretty strong), and James Pethokoukis, who openly admitted he was relying on media accounts and thus not his own sources, they assumed all was lost.
I really don’t know why we’re supposed to think that, in light of Boehner’s actual statement last night (bold is mine):
“Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes. I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure, based on the cuts identified in the Biden-led negotiations, that still meets our call for spending reforms and cuts greater than the amount of any debt limit increase.”
That statement was strong enough that two apparatchiks at the Associated Press felt compelled to split its two sentences and place seven paragraphs of Obama hype in between to water it down.
What about “without tax hikes” am I missing?
Those who doubt should at least read Pethokoukis’s latest from early this morning, which references a real source this time, before concluding that all is lost (bolds are mine):
Like Reagan at Reykjavik, Boehner passes on a bad deal
So in the end, it was bit of a Ronald Reagan moment for John Boehner on Saturday. Just as the U.S. president walked away from a bad arms control agreement with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986, the House speaker passed on President Barack Obama’s mega-debt reduction deal in Washington.
In both case(s), the asking price was just too high. For Reagan, it was lethal limitations on his Strategic Defense Initiative. For Boehner, it was a trillion-dollar tax distraction from America’s true fiscal threat: spending run amok: “Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes.”
A GOP congressional source was a bit less diplomatic, telling me Saturday afternoon via email:
Their fierce insistence on higher taxes is beyond bizarre. After months of demanding ‘clean’ increase to avert economic calamity (default), WH threatens economic calamity (default) unless they get economic calamity (trillions in tax hikes). No wonder these guys are governing over an economic calamity (9.2% & growth malaise), w/ an economic calamity on the horizon (debt explosion as mapped out in president’s budget). The bipartisan consensus on tax reform (broader base & lower rates) was championed by President’s fiscal commission, and yet now is being rebuked by the President. Lowering top rates that would help make America more competitive was too large a leap for a true class warrior.
Indeed, as negotiations wore on, Obama got tougher on taxes (pushed hard by the hard left), and the deal he was cooking up almost certainly wouldn’t have been revenue neutral as he tweaked rates and reduced tax deductions. Not even close. Nor did it help that Obama reportedly balked at a spending-cut trigger if certainly tax reforms were not completed.
Or maybe Boehner also realized he was becoming a role player in an Obama-directed drama whose dramatic focus was securing a second-term for Obama. Either Obama got his big tax-hike deal and a) created a tea party revolt in the GOP, b) looked like a statesmen and c) partially deprived Republicans of a valuable line of attack in 2012 … or there was no deal, and Obama could hammer the GOP until Election Day for caring more about tax cuts for the rich than fiscal responsibility.
Boehner apparently will take his chances with door #2 and push for a roughly $2.4 trillion deal (with a debt ceiling hike, too) based on spending cuts already agreed to and some non-tax revenue raisers. Deeper spending cuts and structural entitlement reform would be better, but that is going to have to be a 2013 thing. Indeed, what entitlement reforms Obama was agreeing to were insufficient to Republicans.
Someone’s going to have to explain to me how what Pethokoukis is reporting is a sellout. The closest one can get is that Boehner might have been open to some tax increases if Team Obama hadn’t turned into complete jerks. But … he didn’t.
My guess is that the Democrats and Biden are now going to try to pretend they never really agreed on $2.4 trillion in cuts, because they’re more interested in testing the shutdown waters than making any real progress towards putting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
How Boehner and the GOP react will be critical. The knee-jerk naysayers should be civilly bucking up the Speaker’s and their Congresscritters’ resolve instead of griping and moaning about the supposedly inevitable sellout. The Speaker’s contact form is here; the main form for the House is here; the list of U.S. Senators is here.
Or is griping and moaning more comfortable?
UPDATE: I said I was going to get to the fiscal 2011 situation. The established meme is: “Boehner promised $100 billion, prorated to $62 billion, said he settled for $30 billion, and it ended up being only $300 million.”
Well, let’s look at how the actual spending numbers are coming in (figures are per the May Monthly Treasury Statement, except June, which comes from the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent Monthly Budget Review):
The above is quite interesting. Follow this sequence:
- Obama’s unsustainable, gutless, irresponsible February budget projected $3.819 trillion in FY 2011 spending.
- The CBO has projected at least $3.7 trillion (actually $3.708 trillion, as seen at this large PDF).
- In February, March, and April alone, the government spent over $1 trillion.
- The fiscal 2011 deal was done in April.
- Since then, after correcting for TARP shenanigans, May spending stayed the same as last year and June, at least per the CBO, is going to come in lower.
- If average monthly spending stays at the average of May and June for the rest of the year (don’t get me wrong, on an annualized basis it’s still at least $600 billion, or $50 billion a month, higher than it should be), total spending will end up being $3.618 trillion.
- If that happens, total spending will end up being about $90 billion lower than CBO predicted, and $200 billion lower than Obama projected.
If this is really how things turn out, why won’t John Boehner and the Republican House deserve some credit for that?
Additional question: Will this mean that the April deal has been deliberately misportrayed, or that Team Obama, having faced Boehner in April, decided to ramp back the spending as a hedge against Boehner and the GOP demonstrating resolve on the debt ceiling? Alternative explanations are welcome.