By all means, Republicans should fight to keep spending as low as possible and block new efforts to expand the reach of government. And they should continue to present a vision for reform in bills that they can pass through the House. Let Obama propose his outrageous budget, and counter with a House-passed budget that actually addresses the nation’s spending problem. Haggle over the numbers and details, attack the Senate for their failure to pass a budget, and then cut the best deal possible. Laying out a governing agenda would give them something to build on if they can retake the Senate in 2014 and gain the presidency in 2016. And it would avoid the spectacle of trying to make the case for small government at a time when financial markets are freaking out because the debt ceiling hasn’t been raised and when there’s no hope of enacting their preferred policies anyway.
Conservatives should recognize that even though they can block key items of the liberal agenda with control of the House, they cannot advance the conservative agenda with Obama as president and Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader. With this in mind, it’s short-sighted to advocate a strategy whereby Republicans dig in their heels at every opportunity in exchange for a few crumbs of concessions from Obama, at best. This strategy risks lasting damage to the conservative brand that will prevent real reform.