The perfect fiscal storm

It’s not all doom and gloom for conservative Republicans at the beginning of 2013.  At least, it doesn’t have to be.  A powerful opportunity for “messaging” exists, if they have the wit and leadership to take it.  I’m not taking any bets on that; I’m just saying they could use this moment, and the events of the next few months, to their advantage.

What we have before us is a “perfect storm” – the violent intersection of three fiscal weather events:

1. The fiscal cliff deal and its tax increases.

2. The approach of the debt ceiling.  (Technically we’ve already smashed through it, but thanks to some accounting razzle-dazzle from Treasury, Congress has until the end of February to deal with it.)

3. The Hurricane Sandy pork-bill debacle.

What conservatives need to construct is a narrative, in which these events are linked together in the public mind.  They could begin right where President Obama left off, because he wasted no time after the announcement of the fiscal cliff deal to demand a no-questions-asked increase in the debt ceiling.  Here’s what he said, late Tuesday night:

“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed.  Let me repeat:  We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.  If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.  People will remember, back in 2011, the last time this course of action was threatened, our entire recovery was put at risk.  Consumer confidence plunged.  Business investment plunged. Growth dropped.  We can’t go down that path again.”

Then Obama hopped on the world’s most expensive aircraft and flew back to Hawaii, where he periodically issues demands for more spending from the beach.  Yes, that is part of the narrative.  This bankrupt government cannot afford to keep its executive in the style of a sultan.  It matters that the chief executive lives at our expense as if money were no object, even as he insists our dire fiscal situation requires the confiscation of additional wealth from private citizens.  Didn’t we all learn, sometime around the first grade, that “leadership” is demonstrated by example?

The President’s point about raising the debt ceiling to pay for existing debt and commitments, not even new spending, is precisely the kind of thing that a good Republican leader should be able to turn against him with political judo.  What Obama said about the debt ceiling on Tuesday night should terrify every American.  He thinks he’s scoring some sort of ultimate debate point, but he’s actually delivering a damning indictment of the system of government he prefers.  It’s so out-of-control that it has to borrow trillions of dollars just to tread water.

And Obama is also making a strong case that he can’t be trusted with any more revenue from tax increases, or counted upon to exercise any spending restraint.  He’s been President for four years, and yet we’ve still got to keep the debt ceiling moving, purely out of inertia.  He’ll say exactly the same thing the next time it needs to be raised, and the time after that: sorry folks, we already spent all that money, we’ve got no choice.  The only alternative is to stop the madness right now, by putting the brakes on uncontrolled federal spending.  The Republicans should call his bluff by offering to increase the debt ceiling just enough to cover those “bills we’ve already incurred,” but then leave it fixed in place, forever.  Make Obama explain why he won’t agree to that, in the process forcing him to admit that all his tax increases – most definitely including the wild fantasies of $1.6 trillion in tax hikes he put on the table following his re-election – would not be nearly enough to keep the debt ceiling in place.  And why should we let Obama’s irresponsible spending keep putting us in the position he describes, where consumer confidence and business investment are threatened by uncertainty?

The Democrats did expend considerable political capital getting their tax hikes on the rich, but only if Republicans drop by to collect the payment.  We’ve now tried it Obama’s way – we’ve raised taxes like crazy, and contrary to all the fiscal cliff rhetoric, taxes are going up considerably on the middle class, and they will notice.  Obama’s betrayal of his campaign promises for a “balanced approach” and “$3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases” can be used against him very effectively, but it will require constant repetition.  The House was only given three minutes to review the 154-page fiscal cliff bill before voting on it.  Now we have plenty of time to pick it apart, and use it as an object lesson in the madness of expecting responsible and intelligent government from people who pass bills without reading them.

And then you’ve got the disgraceful Hurricane Sandy relief package, more than doubled in size by pork-barrel spending.  The argument we’re hearing, from sources including nominal Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is that we must pass this bill in a blind panic, without asking a single question about its contents, or else we’re condemning the Sandy victims to hell on earth.

I’m sorry, Big Government enthusiasts, but you can’t have it both ways.  There is no room for the hasty passage of crazy Frankenstein spending bills in a climate that also calls for the seizure of income and assets from citizens, to resolve a budget crisis.  Washington cannot be both a beggar and a madcap spendthrift socialite.  We can’t treat every dollar of personal income as undeserved lottery winnings that law-abiding Americans must fight tooth and nail to keep, while simultaneously regarding billions in government spending as rounding errors and afterthoughts.  The Democrats convinced America that tough times for Washington required tax increases.  Now we must make them go on living as if times were tough, forever.  They should never stop paying the price for their big “victory” on New Years’ Day.  Their beloved Saul Alinsky would counsel as much, if he returned from the grave and went to work as a GOP consultant.

We had a “fiscal cliff” in the first place thanks to the arrant nonsense of “temporary tax cuts,” coupled with the equal absurdity of the 2011 Budget Control Act and its deficit-cutting Super Committee.  The Super Committee couldn’t even find a way to cut the deficit by 10 percent – that’s why we got the “sequester,” which somehow mutated into an imperative for tax increases, not spending cuts.  This should all be put into terms understandable to the average voter.  Knock a pile of zeroes off the end of the debt and deficit figures, and talk about the government as if it were a spendaholic who thinks it can handle $10,000 in fresh credit card debt every year by demanding a $600 raise.  Talk about how our supposedly all-knowing central planners in Washington can’t even manage a simple hurricane relief bill without turning it into a shopping spree.

And it’s time for some conservative leaders to gently explain to the public that America doesn’t have room for “low-information voters” any more.  An uninformed electorate is never a good thing, but it’s absolutely incompatible with the Obama model of an all-powerful central State, restrained from tyranny only by a popular vote every couple of years.  It should be possible for free men and women to live happy, productive lives while ignoring politics… but it’s not possible, not any more.  A lot of people won’t like hearing that.  Those folks should be a natural Republican constituency, not mindless footsoldiers for unsustainable socialism.  Show them the perfect storm of the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, and hurricane relief, and ask if that’s really the kind of social, political, and financial climate they prefer.