All political activists must wear bifocals so they can keep an eye on the present battle and also focus on the long run.
The agreement today between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress to allow an increase in the debt ceiling of $2.4 trillion in return for reductions in Obama’s planned spending by $2.417 trillion over the next decade, and no tax increases, is a victory for Reagan Republicans in the present struggle, but an even more important victory over the long run.
Obama wanted a debt ceiling increase without conditions. He got a boatload of conditions.
Obama wanted tax increases (a phrase his handlers never allow him to say out loud; they prefer “revenues” as if they fell from the sky) and the deal has no tax increases at all. The deal does create a bipartisan congressional committee that will look at ways to further decrease our debt. Although it is possible that the committee’s 12 members — six Republicans and six Democrats — will recommend a tax hike, it would require a vote by both the House and the Senate to become law, just like any legislation. There is, however, zero chance the Republican House would pass a tax hike in an election year. Remember, 234 Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
Speaker Boehner explained slowly and patiently for six months that any debt ceiling hike of $2.5 trillion would be required to have at least $2.5 trillion in spending reductions in the same bill. There is more spending restraint than debt ceiling increase.
Obama also wanted one vote on raising the debt ceiling between now and the coincidentally chosen date of November 2011. Instead, we will revisit the debt ceiling/budget cut debate in a few months, with the threat of a “default” removed and replaced by the “threat” of across-the-board spending cuts if the committee cannot find cuts that Congress wishes to enact.
All well and good for limited-government conservatives in the present and short run.
But the power of the agreement is in the precedents it sets.
First, never again will we have to listen to all the smart people in the permanent Washington establishment tell us that any “budget deal” has to have both tax hikes and spending restraint. The ghosts of 1982 and 1990 are finally laid to rest. The 1982 and 1990 tax hike and spending cut deals delivered very real and very permanent tax hikes and no spending reduction. Spending actually increased over the baseline after each “agreement.” Why? Because once the Democrats saw the Republicans were stupid enough to put tax hikes on the table, the spending cuts once on the table began to melt away to nothingness.
Second, there is a new rule in town. The Boehner Rule: Any increase in the debt ceiling will require a reduction in federal spending by the same amount of the debt ceiling increase. This new rule will apply to a President Romney or Perry as well as to President Obama. We now have a new tool to keep spending down. One with teeth.
Third, the power of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge signed by 234 GOP congressmen and 40 GOP senators and more generally the Republican brand as the party that will not raise taxes has been tested under real battle conditions and survived and thrived.
Not a bad day’s work.
Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. His Twitter handle is @GroverNorquist