I Won in an Historic Landslide and All I Got Was This Lousy Rounding Error
"I Won in a Historic Landslide and All I Got Was this Lousy Rounding Error." That's the t-shirt that Speaker Boehner should wear based on his debt ceiling plan. The scoring of the second iteration of the Boehner bill gave an estimate of $22 billion in cuts from the CBO baseline for 2012--1/70th of the annual budget shortfall, about five days worth of deficit spending.
Despite the bill's nigh irrelevant scope, we are assured by many in the conservative press that those rejecting this deal are "obtuse," "vain," politically dunce "hobbits." "Of course the Boehner bill doesn't solve the debt problem," rails a frustrated Mona Charen at NRO, "the debt is 98.6 percent of GDP." The problem is that Boehner's plan not only leaves all $14.3 trillion debt intact, it puts us on a course to add $10-$20 trillion over the next ten years.
Then there is Thomas Sowell, arguably the wisest man in our solar system. He likens the debt debate to necessary retreats early in the Revolutionary War. While the image of retreat might fit the Boehner bill, why back down? "Later," Sowell writes, "when the conditions were right for an attack, General Washington attacked." Presumably, like Charen, he implies that we must wait for a Republican-controlled Senate and Presidency. But when that happens, will we then need to wait for a filibuster-proof Senate? The Republicans are coming off an historic victory, which was a mandate for fiscal austerity and 66% of America support a balanced federal budget. With the filibuster in the Senate, the simple truth is that the budget cutting process will not get significantly easier.
Continuing on, we find the Wall Street Journal editors mocking conservatives who oppose the Boehner plan. So exasperated by conservatives stubbornness in trying to stop national insolvency, the Journal couldn't even get their "hobbit" reference straight (Mordor is a location in the J. R. R. Tolkien's novels. Sauron is villain who was defeated in the fantasy classic).
Finally, Charles Krauthammer reminds us "under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone," adding, "Given this reality, trying to force the issue - trying to turn a blocking minority into a governing authority - is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice." He follows this constitutional interpretation by advocating the Boehner plan, but Krauthammer's argument is self-contradictory. He suggests that conservatives are ignoring constitutional checks and balances, then advocates that the House pass a bill which allows the executive branch to continue virtually unchecked spending. (For the record Krauthammer's suggestion of a six-month debt extension has merit, but only to give time to build support for a balanced budget amendment, not to give power to committee as set forth in the Boehner plan.)
According to these and other pundits, it's suddenly catastrophic for Republicans to vote against Boehner's plan. The reality is that a "no" vote will merely make the Boehner plan the latest of many deals to be thrown out. If Boehner can't get the votes, the plan will change and the votes will come. Once the votes come, the Democrats will be in the exact same position as they would be if the Boehner plan had passed on Thursday. Then we would get a bill more fitting for the seriousness of the times.
And let's not forget how serious our fiscal problems are. Federal outlays now make up a quarter of the total national output. Federal spending is up 46% in the last decade while the economy has grown by just 14% (inflation adjusted dollars). In other words, government is growing over 3.5 times faster than our ability to sustain it.
Normally, spending numbers are lost on much of the voting public, but the debt ceiling offers a chance at national reflection over what we have purchased and what we've committed to buy. Instead of framing the debate around government freebies, as in the case of the federal budget, the debt ceiling shows Americans how much it all costs. It is the difference between the euphoria of a credit card-financed shopping spree and the realism the next month's Visa statement.
Conservatives are looking at the bottom line and rightly experiencing sticker-shock. As Lawrence Lindsey recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, the normalization of in interest rates, likely overruns in ObamaCare spending, and slower-than-predicted economic growth (which we're already experiencing) will add upwards of $9 trillion to a ten-year deficit already projected to be $10 trillion. That $19 trillion is on top of the $14.3 trillion the federal government has already borrowed.
Given the situation, are we to believe that that a cut amounting to less than 1% of the federal budget is the best we can do? If so, then we better snap a few pictures of America, because it won't be around much longer.
Joseph Ashby is a contributor to Jonah Goldberg's latest book, Proud to Be Right, Voices of the Next Conservative Generation.