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Was John Boehner's public relations victory a public policy defeat?

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Shutdown Letdown

Was John Boehner’s public relations victory a public policy defeat?

Is the difference between Democrats and Republicans really just five-and-a-half billion dollars? That’s what the Boehner-Reid-Obama brokered deal to avert a government shutdown suggests. 

Conservatives cheered Friday night’s agreement outlining $38.5 billion in cuts to this year’s budget. Days earlier conservatives had depicted the acceptance of the $33 billion in cuts proposed by Harry Reid and Barack Obama as a capitulation, a betrayal. Do the math—saying “Tweedle-Dum” and “Tweedle-Dee” ten times fast.

To put this $5.5 billion “triumph” into perspective, the overall budget spends $3.8 trillion, it runs a deficit of $1.6 trillion, and adds to a debt that already eclipses $14 trillion. A $38.5 billion spending cut doesn’t even make up for last week’s deficit. The $5.5 billion gap that had separated Boehner and Obama represents a few hours of Washington’s unfunded spending.

Many conservatives are spinning this weekend’s 11th-hour agreement enabling the continuance of the spending spree as a victory. This reflects conservatives’ relief that the opposition spinners can’t depict them as lustfully ripping away grandpa’s Medicare and junior’s student aid. But a public relations disaster avoided doesn’t a public policy victory make.  

This isn’t 1995, anyway. The dusted-off narrative from the Clinton years depicting the greedy shutting down the needy no longer works. Republicans control just the House of Representatives rather than the entire Congress. This president is less conciliatory than that president. This speaker of the House is more genial than that speaker of the House. And the deficit today is ten times greater than the deficit back then. The needy aren’t the federal employees making an average salary of $81,000; they are the Americans shouldering a per capita burden of $46,000 apiece for paying off Washington’s accumulated profligacy.

America would benefit from Washington taking a respite from spending money in the manner of Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions. One would prefer that the parties agree to put country above ideology and stop spending away the future. But since that isn’t happening Republicans should refuse to go along with the type of tax-spend-borrow budget agreed to in principle last Friday night. They don’t hold all the cards, but constitutionally they hold an ace: the House of Representatives, where all spending bills originate.

The president has veto power. So do the House Republicans.

A government shutdown is the most persuasive argument for shutting down so much of what the government does.

Commerce doesn’t stop because the Department of Commerce does. We’d still get TV with no FCC. Not only would the weather have improved over the next few months without the help of a National Weather Service, but your local weatherman would have been able to divine the sky’s changes just as inaccurately without Uncle Sam’s battalion of meteorologists.

The phrase “nonessential workers,” ubiquitous during such shutdowns, conjures up heretical thoughts among citizens who inevitably wonder why the government doesn’t just put the paid appendages on permanent furlough. A government shutdown is really a partial cessation of the most unconstitutional, and necessarily unnecessary, federal programs. It is an admission on the part of the government, corresponding to a recognition on the part of its subjects, that the state performs functions ancillary to the desires of its inhabitants.

Government shutdowns are at once a means to educate citizens about how the feds waste their money and an end achieving what conservatives advocate: defunding the NEAFDADOETSACPBEPA, etc. 

The deal isn’t all raw. The conversation has shifted. Before, the spending trajectory moved in one (upward) direction. Now, acknowledging the need for cuts are a prerequisite for any grownup conversation on the budget. The Democrat-Republican disagreements are over the particulars, not the principle.

America is going in the right direction on spending. But the destination is millions of miles away. Celebrate when we arrive, not when we embark.

The federal government still taxes, spends, and borrows too much money. 

The Drudge Report reacted to Friday’s late-night agreement by picturing a determined Speaker of the House John Boehner above the Charlie Sheen-catchphrase “winning.” Read between the lines. Conservatives are winning like Charlie Sheen is winning.

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Written By

Daniel J. Flynn is a columnist for HUMAN EVENTS and the author of Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America (ISI Books, 2011).

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