John Boehner: Budget Brawler

When John Boehner became Speaker of the House, much derision was aimed at his overactive tear ducts.  It turns out that liberals should have been paying more attention to his fists.

Dejected Americans moping around the dusty, jobless, inflation-haunted streets of statist America looked up in surprise as Big Government burst from the doors of the Capitol Hill Saloon with a broken nose and rubber knees.  A hush fell across the crowd as Boehner followed, rubbing his bruised knuckles.  The jingle of his spurs counted off his steps like a stopwatch as he strolled into range for another haymaker.

“This week, Congress is moving toward approval of an agreement on the largest spending cut in history to help begin to create a better environment for private sector job growth,” Boehner told the crowd, his steely eyes lingering for a moment on each man, woman, and child.  The men felt themselves grow a little taller, the womenfolk snapped open their fans to blow away the vapors, and the children suddenly realized they want to be Speaker of the House when they grow up.

“While the President’s party still controls Washington, House Republicans have dragged a reluctant Senate and White House into taking this imperfect first step toward getting spending under control,” Boehner continued, prompting Democrats to hide beneath their hat brims and keep their hands well clear of their shooting irons. 

Boehner quotes Stanford University economics professor John B. Taylor in his USA Today op-ed, making the important point that “reducing discretionary spending in 2011… will help establish credibility,a nd show that government can actually take needed actions, not just promise to take them.”  This can’t be stated often enough.  Sure, those budget cuts represented only a little over a week’s worth of federal spending.  The final $38 billion total is half of the Republicans’ revised demands, which were about half what they promised the Tea Party.  It still matters that this happened, and the national conversation has changed from expensive promises of high-speed rail to a serious discussion about reducing the size of government.

The morale of each side in this debate is important.  We’ll have to see if Boehner really does throw more punches, but it’s good to see him writing things like this:

“So far, the president has only outlined an irresponsible budget that would impose a job-crushing $1.5 trillion tax hike, add $9.1 trillion to the debt over the next decade, and do nothing to address our autopilot spending. Instead, it locks in place the spending binge that has increased every child’s share of the national debt to $45,000.

“Rather than removing uncertainty for private-sector job creators and bolstering confidence in our economy, the president’s budget is likely to deepen anxiety among families, small business operators and investors — the people who really create jobs in America.

“President Obama also wants a debt limit increase, but says spending cuts and budget reforms shouldn’t be attached to it. Americans will not stand for that. We must follow their will.”

A fight must begin before it can be won.  It sounds like Boehner understands the stakes, and knows this is not a battle that can be handed off to some future Congress.  More cuts are needed, and Republican performance in this budget debate was not flawless.  Nevertheless, it feels like something changed this weekend.  Big Government just came off automatic pilot. 

Boehner and the Republicans, in both the House and Senate, will undoubtedly take some hard punches in the massive brawl the Speaker anticipates.  They’ll lose some of the political battles ahead.  Maybe they’ll lose most of them.  If they stand tall and keep swinging, they will be able to tell the electorate of 2012 that in order to see the reforms they’re clamoring for, they have to stop convincing themselves that Democrats are anything but an obstacle. 

That will be the real knockout punch.  Let every voter walk into the polls thinking of Republicans who talk tough and make sense, compared to Democrats who portray every budget cut as a homicidal attack on their favored constituents.  The Democrats just agreed to budget cuts they have consistently portrayed as radical, extreme insanity.  Boehner is entitled to view that as a victory.  Conservatives want to know if he’s ready to saddle up and finish the job.  Somebody’s got to clean up this 3.6-trillion-horse town.