Before moving on, I’d like to take one more stab at explaining the differing viewpoints of the opposing sides in the contentious internecine conservative debate over the debt ceiling and also assess the deal’s winners and losers.
I honestly believe there were reasonable grounds for disagreement among conservatives concerning the best strategy and tactics to tackle what they agree — if all Democrats don’t — to be a national debt crisis. By failing to cut one another slack, we’ll only serve to divide our coalition and impede our shared agenda.
Those supporting the deal, recognizing that Republicans control the House but neither the Senate nor the presidency, believed that congressional leaders had negotiated the best deal they could with Democrats and that we should agree to it. If not, they feared, we might face a default with unpredictable fallout, hurting the economy and the GOP’s chances in 2012, which both sides agree would have calamitous national consequences.
Opponents were less fearful of a default from a debt ceiling impasse. They believed the decision whether to downgrade our credit rating would be based more on the exploding debt than it would the debt ceiling and that it would be very risky to move on and put all our reform eggs in the 2012 basket. They were less concerned about taking the political hit in 2012 for finally calling Obama’s bluff. They weren’t convinced the GOP, which had put forth numerous plans, would take the political hit instead of Obama, who never produced a plan. They were also very opposed to the provision that allows Obama to put this issue on the back burner until after the 2012 elections, which will result in less budget scrutiny and more political cover for him — both of which will be detrimental for the nation.
But the deal is done now, so we must examine who won and who lost. Some have argued that Obama lost, because Republicans secured spending cuts in excess of the debt ceiling increases and staved off Obama’s attempt to increase taxes. Some have boasted that Keynesian economics has now been repudiated.
But liberals, especially Obama, will never abandon Keynesian “stimulus” spending. Even now, they still blame the economic failure on too little spending and are salivating over new federal programs. We don’t know for sure that they lost the tax issue, because if the economy keeps going south, the bipartisan super-committee could blame the spending “cuts” and recommend tax hikes. It’s not likely they’d pass, given the Republican majority in the House, but possible. Perhaps a more realistic threat on taxes is the White House’s view that the Bush cuts may be allowed to expire under the deal, notwithstanding Rep. Paul Ryan‘s disagreement.
Of greater concern is that under the deal, we achieve no real spending cuts, only reductions in the obscene rate of increase. The debt will continue to grow at an alarming rate. So we did not stop the bleeding; we barely reduced the rate of flow. Nor did we make any headway on entitlement reform, without which we will flame out more famously than the Roman Empire. We also will have lost if the committee is stacked with liberals and moderates who recommend such things as major defense cuts or if those defense cuts are triggered upon a committee deadlock. And if they were to propose tax hikes and the GOP House properly rejected them, it might hurt Republicans politically — having thus defied a bipartisan group.
Obama also wins political points, not just because the debt ceiling issue will be deferred beyond 2012 but also because Republicans have now signed on to (and arguably acquired co-ownership of) another deal that will result in an ever-expanding debt. Despite being the major obstructer, to the point that he was asked by budget negotiators from both sides to leave the room, Obama now gets to appear to be the grand compromiser — the reasonable dealmaker — while tea partyers and other conservatives are being maligned as extremists for taking the debate to the brink.
But I fear that the worst potential consequence in this saga is a relaxation in our sense of urgency about the looming national financial collapse. Far too many keep reporting the deal as if it truly will result in a net reduction in spending or at least have a neutral effect — so that the debt will not keep increasing. That gross misperception couldn’t be more harmful if it were to inhibit real entitlement and discretionary spending reform or increase Obama’s prospects for re-election by blurring critical distinctions. Those gloating over the compromise would do well to remember that we’re still dealing with a Democratic Party that doesn’t want to address either problem in a way that can save the nation from financial disaster.
So we conservatives and Republicans must move forward in unity, recognizing the good faith of both sides of this conservative debate, but with an even greater sense of urgency as the blood of financial stability continues to gush from the national anatomy.