The new budget deal arranged by John Boehner and Democrats— approving $50 billion of additional spending in 2016 and $30 billion in 2017—will be split between domestic discretionary programs and defense. Cuts will supposedly take effect in 2025, by which time this deal is likely to be buried under a dozen budget debates and a trillion dollars of bad memories for fiscal conservatives.
We’re told the reason for GOP capitulation is that Boehner, acting selflessly, is about to “clean out the barn” for a Paul Ryan speakership. Implicit in this argument is the idea that this kind of budget agreement would normally be a no-brainer but the crazies must be appeased. Passing it now and avoiding the heat will allow Ryan to move forward with his own agenda.
If only it were that simple.
For one thing, the GOP will have to live with the precedent set by the terrible deal in future negotiations. Barack Obama, as The New York Times points out, is now going to be able to “break free of the spending shackles” of the imaginary reign of austerity that was brought on by the Budget Control Act of 2011. So are all Democrats.
For another thing, conservatives will almost surely see this as a betrayal. The administration came up with the idea of sequestration, and it turned out to be the only tangible victory Republicans could claim on spending.
You may remember the 2010 Pledge to America, in which congressional Republicans promised to roll back government spending to pre-stimulus/bailout levels, cutting at least $100 billion in the first year after taking power. They failed to achieve that improbable goal. And almost every year since, government spending has gone up, though the GOP keeps adding seats by promising to achieve the opposite.
Expecting the GOP to return Washington to 2008 spending levels—now, with a Democratic president in power, or probably ever—is unrealistic. Expecting Republicans at the very least not to piddle away the only leverage they have to keep the status quo is surely reasonable.
If the GOP is unable to extract concessions that mitigate future spending and debt, then the debt ceiling has no real political purpose for Republicans. In fact, if Republicans can’t even hold the line on what they’ve gained—and at this point, Boehner is actually giving back items Republicans won in previous years—then the debt limit isn’t just useless; it’s counterproductive.