Managing Expectations After the Rebalancing of 2012


Pete KasperowiczBy Pete Kasperowicz

History’s great political upheavals were labeled “revolutions” because they involved a complete overhaul (and often, overthrow) of the government.

America stopped sending taxes to Britain and in a fit of violence wrote up a piece of paper describing how its new tools of self-government would work. Soon after, France tilted from monarchy to representative government and back to monarchy again.

Early in the last century, Russia tossed its czar, which was followed by the communist revolution.  A few decades later, China forced out its leaders. Iran in the early 1950s. Cuba in 1959.

2010 hardly stacks up, although it might have. For two years, America watched a new, liberal president and an overwhelmingly liberal Congress install a government-imposed healthcare mandate, take major equity stakes in auto and financial services companies (and set “green” production goals for the auto companies), spent nearly $1 trillion in economic “stimulus,” and multiply the annual budget deficit, already seen as too high, by four times.

The result? Republicans, as they admit themselves, now control one half of one third of the federal government. The Democratic leader in the Senate responsible for allowing all that spending to take place, Harry Reid, won his re-election bid. Many of the Constitution-carrying revolutionary candidates lost.

And so, while opponents of an expanding government bill 2010 as a revolution, Republicans actually working in the GOP House are facing an increasingly difficult task of managing expectations. They are not pulling the strings of any revolution – they exist in a rebalanced federal government that simply doesn’t allow them to “repeal Obamacare.”

Obviously, the Democrats are still a hurdle to progress. As one Republican staffer noted over a hot dog lunch last week, “we own the smallest piece of real estate in town.”

Republicans have admirably kept the need for cutting government at the forefront of all they do. But Republicans are also getting in the way of themselves, and how they manage this internal dilemma over the next year may factor into their chances for continued success in 2012.

The chief obstacle is simply stated: the party wants to cut spending, but suffers from critical differences over how to get that done. Some, like Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and his many supporters, think the best approach is to cut everything equally, from the military to NPR.

Others, like the more powerful House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), abhor across-the-board cuts as lazy, and want to focus cuts on the programs that have been growing faster than others.

So far, Cantor’s view is generally winning out. But Cantor’s approach may lead to trouble down the road, because it lends itself to cutting only those programs that Democrats value. This is worse than simply polarizing the electorate; it’s polarizing without the benefit of real achievement. An example:

The House approves a FY 2012 budget that radically alters Medicare and cuts funding for many Democrat-favored programs, like federal funding for abortions. This agitates the Democrats and gives them fuel for the next campaign, and yet the bill has no chance of becoming law in light of opposition from the Democratic Senate and the White House. At least the Democrats lost the House because an actual achievement – Cantor’s approach might have the effect of weakening Republicans without having accomplished much of anything.

Cantor’s approach also undermines the broad “let’s cut government theme” because it spares Republican-approved programs from cuts. This week, the House will take up its second appropriations bill, dealing with veteran’s programs. The veteran’s bill will increase spending by 5.8 percent, while all the rest are expected to cut programs.

Evidence of this split could be seen in mid-February, when Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) proposed the very first amendment to the FY 2011 spending bill. His proposal would have cut a few dozen million (not billion) dollars from a line that funds military advisory groups, which the Defense Department itself said was unnecessary and duplicative. It failed after being supported by just 92 Republicans, and opposed by 148 Republicans.

Making it even more difficult is a conservative offshoot of the Republican party that is so focused on things like “Obamacare” that it rejects all things legislative that don’t repeal Obamacare. Members such as Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) have routinely voted against spending cuts simply because the bills do not do enough to repeal the healthcare law.

These sorts of divisions among Republicans don’t need to be solved yet. But they may need to be resolved soon after 2012, especially if Republicans win the Senate. If that happens, real revolution may occur after all. If so, it will be based in large part on the answer to a simple question: how do we cut?

© Copyright 2011 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed