There were two developments on the Republican side of the continuing budget standoff on Monday: 1) House Budget Committee Chair, Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2012 and beyond and 2) House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) proposed elements of a one week Continuing Resolution (CR) to temporarily keep the government funded and the Fiscal Year 2011 talks going.
After weeks where Boehner stood shoulder to shoulder with his trusted lieutenants in the GOP leadership, as well as those whose politics may be more in line with the “Tea Party” movement, declaring that there would be no 7th stopgap Continuing Resolution to avoid a government shutdown – late Monday night Boehner blinked and drafted one of his own. Because he blinked guns-a-blazing, much attention naturally goes to the guns rather than the blinking eyes.
Boehner’s CR proposal, first made public after 6:00 PM on Monday and published to the web close to midnight, included a demand for $12 billion in additional not yet negotiated spending cuts, fully funded Department of Defense spending for the rest of the year (exempting DOD from any further cuts in FY2011), and also included language to bar federal and local funding for abortion services in Washington, D.C. Of course this was unacceptable to congressional Democrats and the White House on its face. And naturally, the Administration rejected it when the two sides gathered at the White House.
While it is wholly appropriate to draw attention to the outrageous elements included in this proposal, the real story is that Boehner produced a draft CR at all. At this point Boehner is looking at his hand and not even seeing a pair of jacks. He realized one more CR is his only hope of avoiding a government shut down that he clearly believes Republicans will lose, so he shifted his position and drafted a CR – an acknowledgement of a very bad negotiating position.
Boehner desperately wants to find a deal to avoid a shutdown but there does not seem to be enough in common between the positions of the Tea Party wing of Republicans in the House Boehner needs to retain his Chairmanship, and the Democratic moderates in the Senate for there to be elements of a deal that could pass both chambers. The time crunch and procedural rules tell him there will be a CR or there will be a government shutdown. Boehner cannot accept a shutdown so as time runs out this weekend, he will accept whatever CR he can get.
At this point Democrats on the Hill and in the White House must continue to insist that the President will only sign a “clean CR” that funds the government at current levels for, at most, one or two more weeks as Boehner struggles to work out any deal he can get through his chamber with either Tea Party Republicans or moderate Democratic votes. The White House could compromise and allow the exemption of Defense spending, that is after all the position of their own Secretary of Defense, and a reasonable stance to take, but the White House must use their position of leverage to establish the Tea Party’s inability to hold the government and the President hostage in these and future budget negotiations.
Chairman Ryan’s longer term proposal is serious, complex, detailed and also contains many unacceptable elements – all of which we will engage at another time. It is far more than just a smoke-screen for Boehner’s short-term problems in getting to a deal for FY 2011, but the timing of releasing it this week was clearly designed to give Tea Party Republicans an opening to accept less than they have been demanding in this year’s fight in order to move on to larger battles in the coming years. As such it seems to be at best only a limited success, but any avenue of face saving retreat at this point is a better option for Republicans than following through on a government shutdown.
There are many poll watchers these days wondering who would take the blame for a shut down. Some look at evenly divided current polls and suggest neither side would gain the upper hand if the government is shut down. This is not to be believed. A shutdown is not an extension of the fight that precedes it. It is a new world where people miss government services as never before.
The polling that matters is the many times repeated finding that specific government programs are more valued than “government” in general. Earlier we argued that it is not possible to cut government spending without cutting any specific category of government spending. But it is even more impossible to shut down the government without shutting down any specific category of government. If the 1995-1996 shutdowns have anything to teach us, and really nothing has fundamentally changed since then it is that people will miss their government when they can’t get a visa, can’t start new Social Security benefits, can’t visit a National Park, and realize no one is inspecting their family’s food supply. This is the flaw in the Republican effort to remain popular while cutting popular government programs like…well nearly all of them.