The case for debt-limit ‘extremism’

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If one conclusion can be drawn from the “debtpocalypse crisis” and this spring’s continuing resolution fiasco, it’s that Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are terrible negotiators.

What makes me so confident in saying this? It’s simple: Boehner and Cantor tipped their weak hands at the beginning of both “crises.”

Rather than beginning negotiations for the CR by demanding serious cuts in FY 2011 (cutting the deficit in half or at the very least by a third), House Republican leaders sought a mere $100 billion in cuts. Even that figure wasn’t reached until Tea Party freshmen demanded more than the leadership’s proposed $37 billion.

By only seeking $100 billion in cuts from a budget that was running a $1.4 trillion deficit, the Republicans showed they weren’t really serious about reining in Washington’s reckless spending. At the most, they just wanted to trim it a bit.

In other words, the GOP started the negotiations from the middle rather than the ideal.

There is no room for negotiations if your starting point is at the center, unless of course you really don’t want to get anything out of it. By starting from the middle yet clinging to the rhetoric of the ideal, you grant your opponents a better negotiating position. After all, they just have to accuse you of being an outlier in your views. Even though your proposal isn’t anywhere close to extreme, in the end, you’ll need to move toward your opposition — further from your starting point and much further from your ideal.

The GOP leadership betrayed the Tea Party by stealing rhetoric and language from people who actually walk the walk and allowing the opposition to paint the GOP’s milquetoast proposals as “extreme.”

Harry Reid has been very successful at blaming “Tea Party extremism” for handcuffing the GOP on the debt ceiling. Yet in reality, his plan isn’t very far from Speaker Boehner’s plan.

How could this have been done better?

For starters, the GOP should have followed Senator Rand Paul’s lead and cut $500 billion in spending in FY 2011. Then Republicans could have taken it a step further by working to balance the budget in FY 2012. Now that’s “Tea Party extremism” (known to many of us as “common sense”).

The left wouldn’t have agreed to pass something of this nature, but that doesn’t matter. The proposal would have proven that Republicans are serious about addressing the country’s fiscal problems and that they’re willing to put ideas on the table to fix those problems.

That would have driven Democrats out of their comfort zone and into the Tea Party’s. Either they’d come up with an extreme proposal of their own or they’d pick up and move in the Tea Party’s direction by advancing a compromise proposal — let’s say $100 billion in cuts from FY 2011 and a balanced budget within 10 years. In the end, the final proposal would end up being somewhere in the middle, but at least people would know that the GOP’s rhetoric wasn’t all hot air.

With the debt ceiling, Republicans had a real opportunity to correct their course and extract cuts they weren’t able to secure during their botched continuing resolution “negotiations.”

But that’s not how Washington works. Rarely are any serious proposals for addressing our nation’s problems considered. The solution is always to perpetuate the status quo — to not “rock the boat.”

Unfortunately, when the ship of state is the Titanic and it has already struck the iceberg, rocking the boat should be the least of your worries.

Timothy Shoemaker is the Director of Legislation at Campaign for Liberty. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.