After the midterms: Divide and conquer?
posted at 11:24 am on October 1, 2010 by Karl
Yesterday, House GOP leader — and Speaker wannabe — John Boehner gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, including a number of suggestions for cutting federal spending. I am particularly struck by this one:
Let’s do away with the concept of “comprehensive” spending bills. Let’s break them up, to encourage scrutiny, and make spending cuts easier.
Rather than pairing agencies and departments together, let them come to the House floor individually, to be judged on their own merit.
Members shouldn’t have to vote for big spending increases at the Labor Department in order to fund Health and Human Services.
Members shouldn’t have to vote for big increases at the Commerce Department just because they support NASA. Each Department and agency should justify itself each year to the full House and Senate, and be judged on its own.
This approach is good as a matter of substance and strategy. As Ramesh Ponnuru notes, it would help a GOP-led House avoid a government shutdown showdown of the sort that would otherwise be inevitable. If House Republicans are committed to defunding parts of ObamaCare, they won’t be able to avoid a fight with the administration. While I could cynically make the argument that losing that fight would help frame the 2012 election, it would be bad policy and likely bad for any House GOP leader who wanted to remain House GOP leader. The divide-and-conquer approach would give the GOP much greater leeway in framing funding fights and much less opportunity for the establishment media to hype a budgetary “trainwreck,” as they did in the Clinton-Gingrich context.
If the House Republicans’ Pledge to America showed that the leaders have not yet figured out how to accomodate a likely bolder freshman class, Boehner’s speech shows that at least some thought is being given to the fight ahead. It is thus all the more irritating that Boehner — and the House GOP generally — refuse to commit the party to a ban on earmarks. The divide-and-conquer logic is the same, as earmarks grease the skids for larger and even more odious pieces of legislation. Boehner’s speech acknowledges that voters see the House as a compromised institution. Boehner himself says he is against earmarks. In this environment, it would be a mistake for the House GOP to think it can shy away from an earmark ban with claims that other reforms — e.g., the proposed weekly spending cut votes — are an adequate substitute.