Last year, House Republicans were put in a tough spot during the debt ceiling debate. Just as they were finally beginning to come out with a plan to support raising the debt ceiling in exchange for solid spending cuts (Speaker Boehner was way behind the ball on that), Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) hurt their efforts by unexpectedly supporting the Gang of Six’s very moderate plan. This allowed President Obama and the liberal establishment media to play up the “Look, even conservative Senators are supporting a compromise” card, which they did. This pretty much demolished the House’s standing with a lot of non-political Americans.

This year, we seem to be heading towards a similar stand-off over taxes. Fortunately, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has a strategy to prevent it:

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told The Daily Caller that House Republicans must go on offense now and pass a spending plan that funds the government into 2013 or else congressional Democrats will try raising taxes in the post-election lame duck session of Congress.

“Let’s get out in front of this thing,” Johnson told TheDC. “Let’s do what’s reasonable. Let’s create some certainty.”

In a Thursday phone interview, the Wisconsin legislator argued that Republicans passing a government spending plan now will prevent Democrats from being able to use the threat of another government shutdown at the end of the year to push through tax increases.

Johnson outlined a strategy he and other conservatives are pushing that calls for House Republicans to pass a plan that includes extending Bush-era tax rates for the rest of the year before the August recess, when legislators take a month-long break.

Under this strategy, Republicans in the Senate would then put up a vote on the spending plan passed by the House. This, Johnson said, would make it harder for Democrats to argue the GOP is responsible for an impending government shutdown.

“I think this is something we can win,” Johnson said, adding, “if we get put on defense, we lose.”

Johnson is right on the money here. House Republicans can’t wait until the last minute to come out with a plan. They certainly can’t do what they did last year, which was wait until the last minute and start negotiations with a center-right plan — that means the compromise is likely to be further to the left than it has to be. While I respect Speaker Boehner’s well-intentioned goal of compromising, I think a strong, fiscally conservative plan is the correct starting point for the House. Then, if compromise must take place, it does so starting off from a conservative standpoint, not a moderate one.

The effectiveness of Johnson’s strategy would also be seen in the media. When (not if, but when) Democrats really make their big pre-election push to say Republicans are intransigent (Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has already started), Republicans would be able to easily deflect the charge by pointing out they have completed their lawful duty to pass a budget. How can they be intransigent when they’ve done their lawful duty and Reid is playing politics for re-election purposes for the third year in a row?

P.S. Senator Coburn’s press secretary, John Hart, sent me a statement in response to a comment request. It is below.

He [Senator Coburn] agrees with Senator Johnson.  He’s often said sequestration is a stupid way to set priorities.  We need to pull the weeds (make smart and specific cuts) instead of mowing the flower beds (cutting the good programs along with the bad).  That is especially important with respect to defense spending.  There is no reason why we couldn’t have had a bill that replaced sequestration with specific cuts a year ago.  The same is true with fundamental tax reform.  We haven’t had tax reform in 26 years.  We don’t need further hearings to know the code is complicated and discourages growth.   

On spending, you can accomplish the same goal by making one cut at a time.  We would have been better off making targeted cuts and forcing Reid to defend indefensible spending, such as duplicative federal programs to teach financial literacy.