The voters who flipped the U.S. House to Republicans last November didn’t spur an electoral wave just to see a series of piddling, two-weeks-at-a-time, a-billion-here-a-billion-there spending cuts.
Or did they?
The most recent “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government running expires next week. Back when it was approved, Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members, vowed to make it the final temporary fix. Instead, they would draft a budget to carry us through this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
But subsequent talks between House Republicans and Senate Democrats faltered, threatening to make the long-discussed “government shutdown” come to pass.
I think a shutdown of the federal government could be very useful as a clarifying moment: a time for Americans to see who’s serious about getting our fiscal affairs in order, and who’s digging in to protect a bloated status quo. A time to give a boost to those trying to put Washington’s spending spree not just on hold, but in reverse.
However, I don’t think this is that moment.
As refreshing as it’s been to witness a debate over how much to cut, rather than add, the difference between the sides is not really that great.
Sure, the $51 billion that House Republicans still want to cut out of fiscal 2011 spending is more than the $20 billion Senate Democrats have offered. But that $31 billion gap is, in the grand scheme of a $3.7 trillion budget — and $1.4 trillion budget deficit — minuscule.
It’s so minuscule that I have a hard time believing the American public will think it’s the kind of fight worthy of a government shutdown.
House Republicans say they have bigger cuts in store for next year’s budget, including changes to the entitlement programs that are eating away at our nation’s future.
Democrats are already crying like rats eating onions at the prospect of cutting more than $20 billion — about one-half of 1 percent of this year’s federal budget. The fight over much deeper cuts from next year’s budget is when the stakes will be high enough for a clarifying moment to occur.
In the meantime, this year’s $31 billion gap isn’t nothing. But if Democrats won’t cut it all at once, why wouldn’t Republicans keep taking it in nibbles?
Impatience, for starters. The virtue of the tea partyers and the people they elected to Congress is that they aren’t settling for business as usual in Washington. And that’s good.
But much good could come from making Senate Democrats defend the status quo every couple of weeks. We’ve already been through this exercise a few times, and the momentum for cuts hasn’t abated.
If anything, the constant push for cuts here and cuts there has made the reduction of spending seem routine and inevitable rather than difficult and harmful.
When House Republicans propose $3 billion in cuts for a two-week period, Senate Democrats know they can’t counter with zero — and that they can’t go to the mats to hold the cuts to $2 billion.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already resorted to the hilarious spectacle of lamenting the fate of a cowboy poetry festival in his home state of Nevada. Wouldn’t it be fun to see what ridiculous example he or his colleagues would come up with next?
The public mood last November was for cutting spending to solve the deficit and put the kibosh on our ever-mounting debt. That hasn’t changed.
But there might be a backlash if the shutdown showdown comes down to cutting tens of billions when the problem is in the trillions. If Republicans take the serious step of shutting down the government, they better make sure they’re proposing serious cuts.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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