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But in the meantime, with the budget showdown being mostly a prelude to the reconciliation of the deficit crisis, Republicans have forfeited a vitally important leverage point by accepting last week’s budget deal. It is a conveniently overlooked reality that the chief federal financial burdens are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Without tackling these equally ponderous 800-pound gorillas in the room, genuine fiscal and deficit reform is impossible.
But to stanch these programs, Republicans will have to face the full weight of the ruthless Democratic machine, which will take an enormous amount of staying power to withstand. In accepting a budget compromise with Democrats in lieu of a government shutdown — showing that the Republican Party is not willing to undertake drastic measures — Republicans have displayed the fullest extent of their resolve too soon. Democrats would be safe to assume that Republicans do not have the will to pursue anything approaching the ambitious Ryan Roadmap, with its incisive cuts to entitlements, and that another “compromise” is in the cards when it comes time to handle the deficit.
The same could be said for matters beyond the deficit and the budget. Clearly, the GOP has not been able to derail major points of Obama’s leftist agenda. While some parts of Obamacare will be defunded, the majority of the initiative will continue on. The EPA will not be blocked from regulating carbon. The NLRB will not be required to end secret ballots in union contests. Medicaid block grants will continue to be turned over to the states. Welfare spending will not be cut nor work requirements imposed. The right clearly wanted all of that to happen as soon as possible, but the left obstinately stood in their way.
What’s next? The president says he’ll unveil a plan that will cut spending using “a scalpel, not a machete.” Republicans have promised to leverage a coming vote on raising the debt ceiling to force Democrats into accepting more cuts. Among the measures that the GOP is putting on the table are new, deeper spending cuts, a statutory cap on spending, a constitutional amendment calling for a balanced budget and a new system where budgets are drafted for two years at a time, instead of one. Winning on those issues is the ultimate end-game for conservatives. While it’s clear that conservative have managed to wrestle the nature of policy debate over to their side in 2012, it’s far from certain how the average voter will respond on Election Day. Much is at stake, but only a small fraction of the electorate recognizes that troublesome fact.
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