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Fear and Loathing Among the GOP

That’s all it took for House Republicans to begin to scatter like a covey of quail?

Two simple weeks of recess, complete with ginned-up demonstrations against Medicare and Social Security reform, lead to a full-scale collapse on the fiscal front?

Talk about a great week—President Obama had one.

His order led to the death of Osama bin Laden.  He went to Ground Zero.  He presented two posthumous Medals of Honor. His actions drew praise from former Vice President Dick Cheney and even Rush Limbaugh.

Then at the end of the week, his adversaries on the deficit front—seemingly without external provocation—decided to say that they realized they didn’t have any chance to get Medicare reform as part of a budget package.  That’s just dandy, since Medicare is the primary driver of the unsustainable debt that Republicans pledged to attack last November.

This comes less than a month after House Republicans almost unanimously voted for deep Medicare and Medicaid spending restraint when they voted for the FY12 budget devised by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. 

House Republicans cannot claim they didn’t know what was in the Ryan Plan.  Ryan developed the basics of his plan almost two years ago.  He introduced it to almost dead silence and virtually no co-sponsors.  It has been analyzed, criticized and praised for months and months.  So, those who voted for the Ryan Plan knew what they were voting on.  They had to know that it would create a political firestorm.

Well, it did.  And, now, just like on Saturday Night Live in the old days, “Neeeveeer mind.”

My Democratic friends say, “Yep, it’s just like when Pelosi made House Democrats vote for cap and trade in 2009, when everybody knew the Senate would never take it up.  Lots of our guys lost in 2010 on that stupid and useless vote.”

So, is this the GOP’s “cap and trade moment”?  It certainly cannot be called anything other than self-immolation.

No one has been able to explain the seemingly off-the-cuff remarks by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor two nights ago, when he allegedly said, “Well we know we won’t get real Medicare reform.”  No one has been able to explain why Ryan himself appeared to agree with Cantor when he said, “We’ll have to settle for singles and doubles, no home runs” in the fiscal battle. 

And, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp put the legislative face on it when he said, “I am not interested in laying down more markers.  I am interested in solutions.”  With that, Chairman Camp, whose committee has jurisdiction over Medicare in the House, made official what the Republican message mess had revealed—Medicare is “off the budget table.”

What if the House leadership had said, “Yep, we know we have a lot of work to do to convince voters that we have to do real Medicare and Medicaid change if we are to save the nation from bankruptcy, but that’s what we were sent here to do”?  Eventually, through negotiation, President Obama would have agreed to some changes in Medicare and Medicaid.  That would have given cover to House Republicans in 2012.

As it is now, this unilateral disarmament exposes them on two fronts—they won’t be able to run away from the vote for the Ryan budget (see Sen. Chuck Schumer’s comments in the New York Times story by Jackie Calmes) and they won’t get deficits down significantly.

Am I wrong, or do I remember so many House Republicans saying, “We are not going to be corrupted by Washington, D.C.  We are going to do the right thing, even if it costs us re-election”?

It doesn’t take much of a seer to forecast an ironic outcome—the FY12 budget that will eventually emerge will have freezes on domestic and defense discretionary spending, some kind of budget enforcement process, and no or very few tax changes.  In other words, just about the same deficit and debt numbers that President Obama had in his FY12 budget submission two months ago.

We will see a repeat of the Continuing Resolution follies, this time on the FY12 budget, some sort of deal to extend the debt ceiling, and not much else. 

So, the much-jeered appraisal by Standard and Poor’s last month—when it said that it expected nothing significant on the debt stabilization front until 2013—will become a reality.  And the revolution of November 2010 turns out to be something less than the rebels promised.

Lord knows what will happen when this crew comes back from the next recess.

2011-05-06 00:00:00

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