Republican senators to House tea partiers: Make a deal on the budget already

Let’s finish the undercard, i.e. this year’s budget, and move on to the main event.

“There’s a sense that we don’t want to use too much of our political capital on last year’s budget battle,” said a senior Republican senator. “We just introduced our balanced budget amendment and we want to focus on that, the debt limit and the budget for 2012.

“People want to move on,” said the lawmaker.

“All of us want to make real reductions over the next six months, but we’re much more concerned about real reductions in the debt over the next 60 years,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican conference…

“I do agree the debt ceiling is the more important battle at this point,” said Hatch.

It’s not just the RINOs who are restless about getting bogged down in an argument over $33 billion in cuts versus $61 billion. Rand Paul, who prefers $500 billion in cuts as a starting point, put it in perspective:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said $33 billion in cuts would have little impact on the deficit.

“If we were going to have a $1.65 trillion deficit this years, that means we’ll have a $1.62 trillion deficit. To me that’s a meaningless cut,” Paul said.

I take it a $1.59 trillion deficit, which is where we’ll be if the House GOP bill is passed as is, isn’t much more meaningful to him. (Paul added that he hasn’t heard of any senators demanding that the House GOP hurry up and make a deal.) Serious question: Let’s say that Boehner decides to go to the mat on the House budget and we end up with a shutdown because the two sides can’t agree. And let’s say that today’s Rasmussen poll is right on the money — 57 percent of the public ends up siding with the GOP. How, precisely, would that translate into greater Democratic concessions on the holy grail of the liberal welfare state, i.e. entitlements? Those who support a shutdown seem to believe that forcing it and winning it will strike some sort of meaningful blow to the left’s resolve in defending Social Security and Medicare. Is that right — trimming a tiny bit of discretionary fat will lead to a Waterloo on mandatory spending? New numbers:

The partisan splits aren’t as wide as you’d think, either. On Medicare, 84 percent of Democrats want spending either increased or kept the same (47/37); for Republicans, it’s 83 percent (39/44). Even among tea partiers, it’s at 80 percent, albeit with a 28/52 split on whether to increase spending or merely maintain it. The numbers are similar for Social Security: 84 percent of Democrats oppose cuts (39/45) versus 86 percent(!) of Republicans (35/51). Tea partiers again clock in at 80 percent, with a 29/51 split on whether to boost spending or keep it as is. What’s especially interesting about that poll is that it shows how deeply misinformed the public is about how much we spend on most federal programs (although they do seem to have a fair sense of how much goes to entitlements). That’s significant because, theoretically, cutting more in this year’s budget per the House GOP bill might convince America’s misinformed voters that the “hard cuts” had already been made. You can imagine the lying Democratic ads: “We just cut a whole $61 billion. What more do these Republicans want?”

We’ll know next week which way Boehner wants to go. In the meantime, the House passed a resolution today asserting that if the Senate doesn’t pass a budget of its own next week, then the House budget will become the law of the land instead. Which is, er, not true, and could never be true constitutionally, but they’re looking to make a dramatic statement about how fed up they are and that certainly makes it. So dramatic was it, in fact, that it drove Anthony Weiner to read from his favorite children’s book on the House floor. Aw. Click the image to watch.