Green Room

After the midterms: Divide and conquer?

posted at 11:24 am on October 1, 2010 by

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.

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I suggest bankrupt means we cut government by 75% and then work from there.

tarpon on October 1, 2010 at 12:45 PM

If the GOP only gains control of the House, it’s going to be a different dynamic than the one Clinton faced in 1995.

Back then, he and Dick Morris could move away from the left while at the same time positioning Clinton as the only thing between swing voters and a hard-hearted Congress. That won’t be the case if the Democrats still control the Senate. Then, it’s a 2-on-1 with Obama and Reid, Durbin or Schumer versus Boehner, and unless the Senate Majority Leader next year is willing to play the liberal bad guy role, that makes Obama’s ability to move to the center far more limited, especially if voters are still angry over the current Congress’ actions and are demanding that those excesses be rolled back.

Boehner will at least give the Democrats and the big media a target to shoot at in 2011. But he doesn’t bask in media attention or controversy like Gingrich, and it’s going to be hard to hang all the blame on the House Republicans if Senate Democrats are on the other side of the Capitol trying to maintain the status quo created by Barack, Harry and Nancy over the past two years.

jon1979 on October 1, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Boehner hit the nail on the head.

This gives the GOP a venue to illustrate just how gigantic the Federal bureaucracy is.

JEM on October 1, 2010 at 2:27 PM

As long as “after the mid-terms” means “and forever more after that,” I’m onboard. I doubt the Republicans can enforce this kind of change, however. Horse-trading and agenda-hostage-taking are the oldest dynamics of consensual government. It’s what humans do. We shouldn’t fool ourselves that there’s some way to get really rid of it.

The Founders were right about pretty much everything. Government can’t be reinvented. It can only be limited.

J.E. Dyer on October 1, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Good idea. Make things clearer for everyone including the public

jeanie on October 1, 2010 at 3:21 PM

Divide and conquer?

At this point I prefer repeal, indict, impeach.

INC on October 1, 2010 at 5:03 PM


I have my doubts whether Boehner’s approach would be adopted by the Senate. But it would be a good idea.

Karl on October 1, 2010 at 5:05 PM

This idea would play right into Obama’s hands. He would be free to sign some of the spending bills, and veto only those that affect Obamacare.

Repeal the entire bill within a big omnibus spending bill with all the other Dem programs funded and you have a shot at overriding a veto. It’s critical that Obamacare be killed with Democrat votes, as only that will put an end to the socialist crowd in their camp, at least for a while.

doufree on October 1, 2010 at 5:11 PM

None of it matters. Beginning in January, if the Republicans take control of the House, we will have two years of veto after veto after veto.

Obama will veto anything that isn’t a spending increase. And he will, of course, try to frame it as the Republican’s fault because they couldn’t provide him a “good” bill to sign into law.

Prepare yourselves for two years of government shutdown. Obama will double-down. He will not relent one iota.

ButterflyDragon on October 1, 2010 at 5:23 PM

divide and conquer is the right goal, but don’t stop at budgets. The left attained and holds its power simply because it took a melting pot and turned each of it’s individual ingredients against America -promising (as did Adolph) everything to each group and screw the contradictions.

The GOP badly needs to divide the special interest coalition called the Democratic party by playing one faction against the other – will they have the courage? NO!Why? Because they have no problem being number two as long as they are still part of the Washington DC political class.

To return this nation to sanity, they all need to be removed -today the left -tommorrow the RINOs – etc.

Don L on October 1, 2010 at 5:28 PM

Please don’t commit fratricide, CONSERVATIVES the only way to get Congress to pass legislation without too much overreach and giving the Prez anymore leverage for the next 2 years after the GOP takeover is to offer some goodies in exchange to keep Dems in their home district somewhat safe until the Tea Party punches them again. We have to be patient, being black and white can hurt us. This is long term, not overnight

conservador on October 1, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Sounds like a good dose of common sense to me! Thank you Rep. Boehner!

wren on October 1, 2010 at 8:15 PM