The Long Retreat of Liberalism
Though President Obama has run rings about the Republican Party in the debt-ceiling debate, that party can yet emerge victorious, if it will stick to its guns.
Clearly, the Republican strategy was not thought through, when the party chose the debt ceiling as the legislative terrain on which to fight its fiscal war.
The president had wanted a clean debt-ceiling increase, but he seized the GOP challenge with alacrity. He invited House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor down to the White House and reportedly offered $3 trillion in spending cuts for $1 trillion in fresh revenue, in a historic “big deal” to cut the deficit.
However, the cuts the president offered were, while attractive, gauzy. But the revenues — closing “loopholes” and ending “tax breaks for the rich” — were hard and specific. Had Boehner accepted the deal, he would not have survived as speaker. Fully 235 GOP House members signed a pledge in 2010 not to vote for any tax increase.
Thus, every day Boehner and Cantor departed the White House, having refused to accept “the deal of the century,” the message that went out to the nation was that Republican intransigence, a refusal to compromise, was blocking historic deficit reduction.
Using the White House bully pulpit, Obama portrayed himself as bending over backward to do a fair deal and being forced, if the GOP continued to balk, to stop mailing out Social Security checks.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned of a U.S. default on its debts if there were no deal. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s warned that the United States was imperiling its AAA credit rating. The big media painted the GOP as a party led by reasonable men who were hostage to fanatics being pandered to by Cantor.
Why did Boehner refuse the Obama temptation?
Had he accepted the deal, his party in the House would have split asunder. Half would have voted “no.” To force its passage, Boehner would have had to collude with Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, against scores in his own caucus, to get Democratic votes.
Though House Republicans have been mussed up in the last two weeks, the White House “negotiations” now appear at an end, and a liberated Republican House is about to pass its own deficit-reduction plan.
“Cut, cap and balance” calls for cuts in federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product, a cap on federal programs and the enactment of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would crush federal spending to 18 percent of the economy from today’s 25.
While this may clear the House, it stands little chance in the Senate. But it puts the party on the offensive. It will eat up the clock. It will put the GOP on record as to where it stands and provide the Tea Party Caucus a chance to vote its convictions.
But if the GOP House plan dies in the Senate, how does the GOP win? Again, by simply standing its ground on taxes, and waiting.
This weekend, Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the White House agreed the debt ceiling will be raised, and Obama accepted the reality that he will not be getting any new revenue.
This means that, at the end of this process, Obama will sign a debt-ceiling increase that involves $2 trillion or $1.5 trillion or $1 trillion in spending cuts, with no new taxes and no new revenues.
And that is a victory for whom, and a defeat for whom?
Republicans may have been beaten up for most of July, but come August, Democrats will be asking Barack Obama what exactly he and they got for agreeing to serious cuts in social spending, while the Republican right compromised on nothing and gave up nothing.
Obama won the public relations battle, but the Republicans, if they hold firm on no revenue enhancement and no new taxes, are fated to win the war. And not just this one.
For, from Greece to Ireland to Portugal to Italy, from California to Wisconsin to New Jersey to New York, the crisis of the West is a crisis of liberalism.
Deficits and debts that threaten to wipe out bondholders and banks, destroy currencies, bring down governments and bankrupt nations are everywhere forcing reductions in government payrolls and rollbacks in government programs.
Across the West, the public sector is under siege.
And parties of the left, be they liberal, socialist or Marxist, depend on the public sector increasing its employees, increasing its beneficiaries, increasing its share of the national wealth.
That is what they do. That is how they grow. And that is how they reach and retain power.
Bottom line. Parties of the left are on this earth to grow the government. But the West has entered a period where its economic survival and the prevention of financial collapse mandate constant and deep cuts in the size and sweep of government.
For the left, this is going to be a long decade.