Democrats feeling the pressure on budget cuts? Update: Boehner’s strategy

posted at 11:36 am on February 25, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Democrats have begun to realize that standing pat on spending might not be the best electoral strategy after all.  With Gallup confirming that Republicans have big lead on budgeting, the Senate Democrats suddenly have gotten in touch with fiscal responsibility.  The GOP’s strategy to frame cuts as $2 billion a week appears to have made an impact:

After days of overwrought press releases, Congress stepped back from the precipice Thursday, with Senate Democrats embracing new spending cuts even as House Republicans softened the tone of their nearly $4 billion ransom demand to avert a government shutdown next Friday.

Leaders of the House Appropriations Committee said most of the required downpayment will be achieved by sweeping up old pork-barrel projects and terminating programs already targeted by the White House. At the same time, Senate Democrats stepped past President Barack Obama and signaled they would begin looking for new cuts below his spending freeze, an important move in the GOP’s direction. …

The Senate concession was the more significant, and Democrats are close to abandoning the $1.087 trillion “hard freeze” mark they had set just last week for their Appropriations Committee. Subcommittee clerks were called in Thursday afternoon and instructed to “look for everything that is available” in terms of shaping a spending resolution.

One easy target is about $8.5 billion in unspent funds from prior earmarks already identified by House Republicans. And the White House was informed that the Senate now intends to try to expedite some of the savings proposed in the administration’s recently released 2012 budget.

Time runs short, with a March 4th deadline for some action now just a week away.  The likely outcome will be another short-term CR, perhaps for just two weeks, while the House and Senate try to resolve the differences that remain.  But the movement by Democrats in the Senate is the first blink, and it will set the terms of the debate.  No longer will those terms focus on whether to cut in real terms, but how much.

What caused the Democrats to blink?  It could be a number of factors.  Harry Reid’s rhetorical adventures on prostitution in Nevada in the middle of a budget fight certainly made his caucus look as though it would spend yet another year ignoring the priorities of the voters.  The Gallup poll also provided a wake up call.  But the deciding factor may have been a loss of nerve at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue:

Some Democrats think a federal government shutdown will be a major political boon to their party –- akin to the decisive Clinton-Gingrich war of 1995 — but President Barack Obama isn’t one of them.

White House officials are deeply concerned that even a short interruption in government services, while no economic knockout blow, might slow down a recovery that has just recently gained momentum.

Well, that “momentum” turned out to be illusory anyway, but it’s the right instinct even for the wrong reason.  As former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon told Politico, this isn’t 1995:

Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and an admirer of Obama’s political skills, put it this way: “There’s always a danger in politics of assuming past is prologue. This is not [the 1990s] and voters may be angry enough today they wouldn’t mind seeing the government shut down if that’s what it takes to get meaningful cuts. The only guarantee when you play chicken is that someone is going to get hurt.”

The 1994 Republican victory came in a time of economic growth, when federal budgets were far from the crisis point faced today.  The victory stemmed from Bill Clinton’s overreach on HillaryCare and on a series of scandals in Congress.  Newt Gingrich overestimated the desire of American voters to engage in a winner-take-all battle over budgets, and ended up losing the confrontation.

In 2011, the situation is vastly different.  The federal budget now overspends its revenue by 40%, not the 12.8% it was in 1995 (pg 292).  The deficit in 1995 was 2.8% of GDP; this year it’s 12%.  Unemployment in 1995 was 5.6% at the time of the shutdown, with a higher civilian participation rate, not 9.0% with the lowest civilian participation rate in a generation. Voters are much more focused on runaway government spending, which means that the White House probably has this one right– a shutdown due to a refusal by Democrats to cut real spending (as opposed to the rate of increases) would probably be disastrous for Obama.  Harry Reid should get his mind off of the brothels and back on business in Washington.

Update: Bill Kristol just got a call from John Boehner, discussing strategy.  Kristol has an amusing introduction to his report on the call — he thought at first it was an automated fundraising call — but then lays out what looks like a triangulation strategy to force Democrats into cuts:

But the short-term CR doesn’t pro-rate all the spending cuts in the seven-month version. It picks out cuts that the Obama administration has endorsed, as well as earmarks, and terminates them all at once to get to the $4 billion. So it’s going to be a little hard for Democrats and the administration to say these cuts are crazy. (They can say these programs should be terminated only on October 1 rather than right away—but that’s not exactly a killer argument.)

Once the House passes this short-term CR near the beginning of next week, House Republicans will be able to say they’ve passed a seven-month CR, and a two-week CR, either of which would keep government open. The pressure should be on Senate Democrats and the administration to accept the short-term CR or come up with a reasonable alternative to avert a government shutdown. Even liberal media are going to have a hard time blaming Republicans if Senate Democrats and/or the Obama administration drop the ball.

Read it all, of course, but it sounds like a smart strategy for the short term public-relations fight over a potential shutdown.


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How can it be to their advantage? Dems neglected the budget prior to the election for political reasons. I say they lose.

Stevel on February 25, 2011 at 11:43 AM

It’s a trap!!!!

Knucklehead on February 25, 2011 at 11:43 AM

Democrats have begun to realize that standing pat on spending might not be the best electoral strategy after all.

Democrats never had a chance from the beginning. We could have implemented real spending cuts and it would have guaranteed another landslide victory for us in ’12 if not for the fact that the leadership of the Republican Party is as corrupt as the leadership of the Democrat Party.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Give it time Ed, Senate Republicans will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of Victory.

Amadeus on February 25, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Cut it or shut it. This ain’t ’95.

predator on February 25, 2011 at 11:46 AM

I’m not sure which is more corrupt, the Democrat or the Republican Party, but the competition between them is fierce. One thing they seem to have in common is opposition to spending cuts.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 11:47 AM

Both parties are irretrievably corrupt. Neither party is willing to cut spending.

It’s time for a new party.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Keep at it. Make ‘em blink again

odat on February 25, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Really, it’s time for two new parties.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 11:49 AM

I’m completely certain that this will convince the establishment Republicans that fighting for what they believe in will really work. And also, they now realize that the Tea Party movement will work.
/s

Freelancer on February 25, 2011 at 11:49 AM

Harry Reid should get his mind off of the Nevada brothels and back on business the ones in Washington. EM

A style edit.

Barnestormer on February 25, 2011 at 11:51 AM

the Senate Democrats suddenly have gotten in touch with fiscal responsibility

Yes, while it’s politically useful. We all know they would embrace business as usual given the chance…but ‘we won’. hee hee!

jeanie on February 25, 2011 at 11:53 AM

The other important factor (1995 vs. today) that must be addressed is that the MSM doesn’t control the dialogue anymore. People get their facts from other sources, courtesy of the internet. So, when the President tells people that SS and VA checks will be stopped, with the media trumpeting these as facts, we can look up the real consequences and call out our leaders as liars.

djaymick on February 25, 2011 at 11:56 AM

I don’t see how any rational person could follow the logic that the democrats, who didn’t even present a budget in 2010, are the responsible party in this situation.

Vashta.Nerada on February 25, 2011 at 12:07 PM

Bill Kristol just got a call from John Boehner, discussing strategy.

Um, it might be a good idea not to broadcast strategy to your opponents.

Just saying is all.

Good Lt on February 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM

House Republicans softened the tone of their nearly $4 billion ransom demand to avert a government shutdown next Friday.

Gee, why not call them TERRORISTS or something!

SouthernGent on February 25, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Sorry, but it’s time for the Republicans to hear from the people. Cut the budget – no more waffling, just cut the budget.

jackal40 on February 25, 2011 at 12:12 PM

djaymick on February 25, 2011 at 11:56 AM

Think you’re right. We have a better informed electorate than we’ve ever had in this country. These are not Clinton times. And..it was a while ago but I do not recall the shut down causing problems. I had forgotten about it until recent events.

jeanie on February 25, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Good Lt on February 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Telegraphing punches IS the strategy of republicans.

cjtony97 on February 25, 2011 at 12:14 PM

This is a tough call. If the Republicans try to cut the larger they know they won’t get everything but they have made a credible attempt in the eye of the public. If you go for a lower number and a shorter time frame and still don’t get everything you asked for it just looks like more D.C. tricks. Fair or unfair “it’s a start” isn’t going to be embraced with open arms.

Cindy Munford on February 25, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Shut it down. Even if it’s only for principle. Conservatism rules the day; lets wield the power.

BobMbx on February 25, 2011 at 12:20 PM

I would rather they fight for $100 billion and lose than settle for less when our survival requires more.

Cutting only $4 – 60 billion sets a dangerously low precedent in these perilous times that require boldness and fortitude.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Basically, put the cuts in and tell the Senate: its up to you, if you want to shut down the government, fine.

Then the Senate can take a look at what happens when Senators flee from responsibility.

Put together a current FY budget with even deeper cuts and programs to be ended. Let the Senate know its pass it or close it.

When they won’t pass it, cut it further and let them know that as the Senate wants to be immoderate in spending, the House will be moderately cutting more… wash, rinse, repeat. Set the tone and tenor now, and when it comes time to slashing the FY ’12 budget, people will be USED to this and seeing government shut down for long periods with no major changes in what happens in the country.

ajacksonian on February 25, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Good Lt on February 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM

It’s the Republican way.

DrMagnolias on February 25, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Cutting 2 billion a week. That sounds like a payment plan. That sounds reasonable.

This kind of thinking could help the public accept more cuts.

Buying a house or car on time always makes it seem do able.

This is a step toward a psychological strategy that could help not just Democrat pols. but a wary public.

petunia on February 25, 2011 at 12:27 PM

I think Republicans should just make their surrender official and we should harness the backlash and redirect it to drive momentum for a new party.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Obama will take credit and be re-elected.

faraway on February 25, 2011 at 12:28 PM

I wish/hope Democrats see the light but I think they will shut the government down purposely just for the opportunity to blame majority Republicans.

For libs, its only politics.

Speakup on February 25, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Cutting only $4 – 60 billion sets a dangerously low precedent in these perilous times that require boldness and fortitude.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Exactly. Its $1.6 trillion that needs to be cut, not $100 billion. This is a fight over a rounding error at the Treasury.

BobMbx on February 25, 2011 at 12:29 PM

as we keep Tweeting Boehner, McKinnon nails it, it is SO NOT 95. Even I, former Lefty Maximus, am now on the GOP side of the aisle.

I keep sayin it and it is true, what is Moderate in America today is Fiscal conservatism.

I am not a conservative and havent changed my voter id from D to R because I am also finding myself a social libertarian in my 40s.

Do not fear the budget reaper GOP. shut it down.

ginaswo on February 25, 2011 at 12:29 PM

After days of overwrought press releases, Congress stepped back from the precipice Thursday, with Senate Democrats embracing new spending cuts even as House Republicans softened the tone of their nearly $4 billion ransom demand to avert a government shutdown next Friday.

The only things missing from this overwrought, mixed-metaphortastic lede by Politico’s David Rogers was inclusion of something about hurricane-force winds and rain lashing the Capitol as the dam broke and pestilence swept across the plains, followed by mass-starvation of goldfish, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

First, we’re at the precipice about to plunge thousands of feet to a craggy doom. Then, we’re in the kidnapper’s lair. But before that, the Democrats were embracing, which foiled the callous ransomers and caused them to surrender. And, at the last, we narrowly avoided having a factory of some sort close for a time.

WTF? That was some of the worst writing to come down the Politico pike since, well, since at least yesterday. No wonder the Dims have such a messaging problem — their propaganda arm has a weird form of carpal tunnel syndrom that stretches from the wrist to the rotator cuff.

FlameWarrior on February 25, 2011 at 12:31 PM

Cutting 2 billion a week. That sounds like a payment plan. That sounds reasonable.

petunia on February 25, 2011 at 12:27 PM

It’s not. 2 billion a week out of $1500 billion deficit, for this year alone, (of course we’re talking about only part of the year here), means it would take 13 more years to balance this years budget alone, let alone all the rest during that 13 years.

Rather than sounding reasonable, it actually would spell our doom.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Exactly. Its $1.6 trillion that needs to be cut, not $100 billion. This is a fight over a rounding error at the Treasury.

BobMbx on February 25, 2011 at 12:29 PM

Boehner’s going to attempt the “death by 1000 cuts” strategy on the Dems, IMHO.

If the Dems hold and refuse to pass a CR with even token cuts, the shutdown is on them.

If the shutdown happens and most of the country goes on unaffected, thanks to “essential services” still going on, it makes it easier for the House to demand larger cuts than the ones already in the CRs.

teke184 on February 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Obama is scared b/c he knows if they shut it down the people will see the world DID NOT END and will look around and think maybe it is a good idea to keep most of it shut down. seriously.

ginaswo on February 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM

HT Instapundit:
Federal shutdown: Social Security checks won’t stop – Feb. 23, 2011

As I’ve said before – keep the major entitlement checks coming – SS, Medic-blah, Unemployment, and close Health, Education, Energy, BATF, and a host of other warrens of parasites, and I think the real horror will come when Democrats understand just how little the public in general cares about that stuff.

And most important of all: let laid-off government workers know that they will not be retroactively paid after the shutdown. They will bear a major cost if Cat-house Harry Reid decides to force the issue.

Laurence on February 25, 2011 at 12:38 PM

Even liberal media are going to have a hard time blaming Republicans if Senate Democrats and/or the Obama administration drop the ball.

Has the GOP never seen a liberal, read the news or watched television? Republicans are EVIL and therefore always at fault – period. Democrats are righteous crusaders without fault.

This strategy might work if liberals were reasonable and rational which, given the bulk of evidence, doesn’t appear to be true.

Onus on February 25, 2011 at 12:54 PM

Message the GOP should use.

We are trying to save the country for taxpayers, while democrats are trying to save govt unions.

roninacreage on February 25, 2011 at 12:54 PM

Shut it down.
This ain’t 1995, and Obama is no Bill Clinton.
Barack doesn’t know HOW to triangulate his way to the center, especially if the center supports spending cuts.

Shut. It. Down.

stevezilla on February 25, 2011 at 12:59 PM

Exactly. Its $1.6 trillion that needs to be cut, not $100 billion. This is a fight over a rounding error at the Treasury.

BobMbx on February 25, 2011 at 12:29 PM

Yup, the Fed spent $100Billion in the time it took me to cut and paste your quote.!!!

orbitalair on February 25, 2011 at 1:02 PM

FlameWarrior on February 25, 2011 at 12:31 PM

Now that’s funny! Sadly it’s also true.

Vince on February 25, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Time runs short, with a March 4th deadline for some action now just a week away.

…and the senate is out of town, won’t be back until March 5th or 6th or so.

Skandia Recluse on February 25, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Just wondering…

If the government shuts down, whose gonna pay for the The Ones’ trip to the NCAA tourney?

Somehow, I’m not convinced the Secret Service is an essential function during March Madness.

BobMbx on February 25, 2011 at 1:15 PM

NOT BUYING IT.

The Washington D.C. Ruling Class is going to let the IMF/World Bank/Credit Raters be the bad cop and force the U.S. to make budget cuts or it will collapse the economy.

THAT IS ASSUMING……That the Progressives in charge of both parties aren’t willing to just let all Hell break loose and have millions of Union members trample thru the U.S. Capitol and surround the White House.

Funny thing……these UNION THUG LEADERS think that the DEMS wouldn’t throw them under the bus? LOL……right.

Folks, we’re about to see the most civil unrest since the 1960′s in this country…….in fact, it might be the most since the 1860′s.

Have you checked food prices at the grocery stores lately?
WOWZER!!!!

PappyD61 on February 25, 2011 at 1:21 PM

“…while no economic knockout blow, might slow down a recovery that has just recently gained momentum.”

Say What?? Didn’t they just “unexpectantly” reduce last quarters GNP from 3.6% to 2.8%?

Bevan on February 25, 2011 at 1:37 PM

In ’95 we didn’t have the blogosphere and digital media outlets that we have today. The difference between then and now isn’t strategery, it’s information. We have the ball and the field is wide open, let’s not trip ourselve by trying to juke what isn’t even there.

pugwriter on February 25, 2011 at 1:43 PM

If the Democrats take the shutdown option we should demand to cut a $100 billion to start it back up. It’s not too late for Republicans to meet the minimum threshold.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 1:49 PM

…make that $101 billion.

FloatingRock on February 25, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Harry Reid should get his mind off of the brothels and back on business in Washington.

To paraphase Mickey Rooney in Boys Town (1938): “It ain’t heavy, it’s my brothel.”

PS: Considering the Dems on-going concern about the children (barf!), I’m assuming Harry Reid’s worried about the “brothel sprouts.”

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on February 25, 2011 at 2:01 PM

Bbbbbut didn’t 65% of “insiders” say the GOP will lose if the govt shuts down? And we all know that “insiders” are never wrong right?

angryed on February 25, 2011 at 2:03 PM

The national debt has increased an average of four billion every single day since 2007, and they think a few billion a week is going to help? Politically, maybe, but it will do literally nothing to fix the deficit or the debt…

Read the 2011 budget for yourself if ya want a good laugh…

equanimous on February 25, 2011 at 2:06 PM

Personally, I’d like to see another 0 added to that 100 Billion figure…at the end, not the beginning and with no punctuation between.

Pattosensei on February 25, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Oooooo, the great budget battle of 1995 was so horrible for Republicans. We lost 8 seats in the House the following year, yet still had a majority of 228-208, and maintained our majority for the next 10 years. Oh, and we also picked up 2 seats in the senate in 1996. Yeah, that government shut down really killed us Republicans back then. Yes, Dole lost, and Bill was re-elected, but that was mostly because of Dole.

xblade on February 25, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Obama is scared b/c he knows if they shut it down the people will see the world DID NOT END and will look around and think maybe it is a good idea to keep most of it shut down. seriously.

ginaswo on February 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM

I’d love to agree with everything you said here, but most people will believe what they’re told to believe. And I guarantee the media will be showing nothing but sob stories, all dutifully blamed on republicans, 24/7. Sure, this ain’t 1995, but the media are even deeper in the tank for democrats than they were then (I know, I couldn’t believe it was possible either). I have little hope and less change.

runawayyyy on February 25, 2011 at 3:49 PM

We should do away with all agricultural subsidies.

Tzetzes on February 25, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Shut’er Down! I’m beginning to think the sooner we collapse the sooner we can start over and build the country back. The tax and steal Communist Dimocrats won’t let it shut down long since they live from the slop in the public trough.They will squeal like pigs if the slop is interrupted as in Wisconsin

Marco on February 25, 2011 at 4:34 PM

The Democrats are counting on their MSM friends to spin this issue in their favor, which is likely just what they’ll do.

The problem with that strategy is that people are learning, more each day, to bypass the mainstream shills if they want to get all of the facts and form their own opinion.

The new media is here, and more people each day are using it to get at the truth. This is of course the exact reason that new media and broadcast radio are being targeted by the Dems with censorship attempts with pretty names like “Net Neutrality” and “Fairness Doctrine.”

Warp factor nine, Mr. Sulu. Full steam ahead. Hammer down. Let’s Roll. (Take your pick.)

hillbillyjim on February 25, 2011 at 4:47 PM

The GOP’s strategy to frame cuts as $2 billion a week appears to have made an impact:

We need to frame the total budget deficit as $31 billion a week ($100/week per American), from which the Republicans propose to cut a whopping 6.5%. The Dems really can’t afford that?

Steve Z on February 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

This is exactly what I hoped their strategy would be. They had to avoid being blamed for a shutdown, which would be the object of the Democrats. I think the Dems are counting on the same reaction as in 1995, but it’s kind of difficult to blame the Republicans when you yourself have passed trillions in spending increases that the public generally opposed.

flataffect on February 25, 2011 at 11:38 PM

All the jabber here of shutting down government sounds real good (I would like it shut down almost permanently – at least back to the days when Congress only met for three months out of the year) but, it isn’t about to happen, simply because fierce leftist media frenzy would be aimed 100 percent at blaming the GOP.

Ron C on March 2, 2011 at 6:23 PM