How many seats does John Boehner’s party need to control the House? If you guessed 218, you are wrong.
The correct answer is 28. That’s how many Republicans, counting the House speaker himself, voted to raise the debt limit with no strings attached.
Harry Reid called it “the right thing.” The White House praised it as a “positive step.” The Boehner 28 called it progress. “You’re not even going to clap for me getting this monkey off of our backs?” the speaker asked.
The monkey in question is not the $17 trillion national debt.
A case could certainly be made for a clean debt ceiling resolution. The Obama administration was not likely to deal. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly engaged in such brinkmanship only to wind up capitulating in the end.
Why repeat past mistakes and distract the public from the slow-motion disaster that is Obamacare? “When your enemy is in the process of destroying himself,” Sun Tzu supposedly said, “stay out of his way.”
But the more apt quote may be attributed to Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Republicans have won one real spending battle with the Obama administration. The result was sequestration. Sequestration was then partially traded away for mandatory spending savings in the Ryan-Murray budget. About half of those savings go away when the military cost-of-living adjustments are restored.
It would be easier to credit Republicans for passing on another debt-ceiling imbroglio in order to live and fight another day, if there was any evidence that day would ever come.
Divided government has temporarily halted the early Obama administration’s explosive growth in federal spending and yielded short-term deficit reduction. According to the Congressional Budget Office, however, deficits will start rising again in 2016.
The long-term problems of the national debt and our entitlement program’s unfunded liabilities have barely been touched. Meanwhile, the labor force is shrinking and the baby boomers are retiring.
“With debt so large, federal spending on interest payments will increase substantially as interest rates rise to more typical levels,” the CBO states. “Moreover, because federal borrowing generally reduces national saving, the capital stock and wages will be smaller than if debt was lower. In addition, lawmakers would have less flexibility than they otherwise would to use tax and spending policies to respond to unanticipated challenges.”
This is the legacy for which the president and the speaker expect applause.
It makes sense to wait until after November, when Republicans are likely to make gains on Capitol Hill and may retake the Senate. But the period from 2005 to 2007, when Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, was not noted for spending restraint.
The House already passed a bloated farm bill. Leadership floated a thinly veiled immigration amnesty long after the Gang of Eight deal looked dead. Is this a preview of what conservatives have to look forward to if Republicans regain power?
There is just one silver lining. A cursory glance at the Boehner 28 — Buck McKeon, Frank Wolf, Hal Rogers, Peter King — reveals it to be dominated by the old guard. New, younger fiscal conservatives may soon have their day.
When Dennis Hastert was speaker of the House, bills had to have the support of a majority of the majority — that is, most Republicans — to make it to the floor. But those Republicans tended to increase spending. Now we have said hasta la vista to the Hastert rule, but a majority of the majority seems to want cuts.
Only when we see which faction speaks for the Republican Party on spending will we know how clean this debt ceiling hike really was.
Is the GOP the party of Obamacare repeal and limited government? Or is it the party of big farm bills and Medicare Part D?
In the past, the government-cutters have been most influential when the party was out of power. When Republicans win elections, big government is back in vogue.
Conservatives are tired of being told to wait for Republicans to hold the Senate, then the White House, then veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress. What’s next? The United Nations General Assembly? Must Republicans control outer space before spending can be cut?
Republicans are forever like the Inspector Gadget villain Dr. Claw, shaking their fists at government spending and shouting, “I’ll get you next time, Gadget — next time!”
As Roger Whittaker crooned in the old song, “Everybody talks about a new world in the morning / New world in the morning takes so long.”
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the recently released book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.