WSJ: Hey, we're winning, in case you haven't noticed

And not #winning in the Charlie Sheen credibility-death-spiral sense, either, but actually winning on federal spending.  While Tea Party activists express anger over a potential deal to finally end the FY2011 budget debate, the paradigm on the budget has shifted since the midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal argues.  Instead of debating whether to slow the growth of spending, we’ve finally begun to actually cut it, and now even sacred-cow programs are on the block for at least restructuring and reform:

We share the desire of new Members in Congress who want deeper reductions. But Republicans don’t hold the Senate or the White House, and even cuts of this magnitude are bigger than anyone could have expected last December. Republicans and tea partiers should pocket the victory and move on to the bigger fights over the 2012 budget and debt ceiling.

The fact that Congress is cutting any spending from the $3.6 trillion budget is a big cultural shift in Washington and an important course correction. In 2008, domestic discretionary spending rose by roughly 8%. The budget for federal agencies then expanded another 24% over 2009 and 2010, not including the $270 billion of stimulus funds for these programs. By contrast, the $10 billion in cuts that Republicans have already won for fiscal 2011 will reduce spending by roughly 1%, and 3% if a $33 billion compromise becomes law.

This has accomplished two valuable goals. First, Republicans have succeeded in preventing the stimulus funding in 2009 and 2010 for discretionary programs from becoming a permanent part of the federal baseline of spending, which was a major goal of unions and liberal Democrats.

Second, because this budget permanently reduces the spending baseline for all future agency expenditures, over the next decade $33 billion savings will grow to about $400 billion. Now we’re talking real money.

Of course, by that argument, $60 billion would have meant $800 billion over the same period, but that also points out the folly of hanging on either number.  On the same trajectory, we will add more than $12,000 billion to the national debt, which makes the $400 billion difference a drop in the bucket.  It’s the direction that counts on discretionary funding, but that’s not really the major battleground anyway.

The big fight will come in entitlement reform, and in order to have credibility in that fight, the GOP needed to shape the debate in significant ways.  First, they had to demonstrate that their cuts were budget based rather than ideological, and second, they had to show Democrats as opposed to any cuts at all.  Chuck Schumer may have used DSCC flash cards to push the “extreme” label onto the GOP, but no one looking at a $1.6 trillion deficit would think of a $0.03 trillion cut to the budget as somehow being “extreme.”  That’s even more true when considering a $3.8 trillion budget, or $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending, against the $0.03 trillion in cuts proposed in this budget.

Furthermore, Republicans will have driven the budget process to closure past Democrats and the White House in 90 days, something Democrats couldn’t do with total control for 365 days.  They will have done that while imposing the first real cuts in spending in long memory (not just cutting the rate of growth), while demonstrating actual governing responsibility and focus.  When it comes time to fight for entitlement reform, that credibility will go a long way towards forcing Harry Reid and Barack Obama to play ball — or if they don’t, for Republicans to point out that the only party that seems interested in actual budgeting and responsibility is the GOP.

That’s not victory, of course.  But it is momentum, and it is winning, at least in the preseason.  The real fight still lies ahead.

Update: Reason TV looks at the Tea Party pushback this week against compromise:

However, the Ohio Tea Party is attempting to influence one local politician with outsized influence on the national stage: House GOP Majority Speaker John Boehner. As house minority leader from 2007-2011, Boehner rubber stamped practically every Bush-era initiative to expand the scope and size of the federal government.

More recently, Boehner has stated his support for increasing the federal debt ceiling, which will allow Washington to continue borrowing money to meet its obligations after it hits the limit (which is expected to happen before the end of May). The West Chester Tea Party, which is opposed to increasing the debt limit, has been contacting the Speaker’s donors, asking them to influence him to take a harder line on the issue.

Boehner’s trying to use the debt ceiling limit to force reform on spending and entitlements. Until Republicans control both the Senate and the White House, they will have to find ways to force Democrats to come to the table, and the debt ceiling may be the best leverage they have at the moment. But if so, Boehner had better get something significant that changes the paradigm even further.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022