Tensions High over Budget Deal

Will an unlikely coalition of fiscal hawks and far-leftists derail the bill?

Details of the budget bill that will come up for a vote on Thursday have started to emerge, as speculation builds as to whether dissent in the wings of the Republican and Democrat camps might lead to the bill’s defeat. Failure to pass the bill would lead to a partial government shut down, a possibility that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor dismissed on Tuesday, claiming that the bill had the votes to pass. However, although it is true reluctant Republican budget hawks in the House voted for the stop-gap spending bill that was posed last week, fewer of them are expected do so in the case of this bill. By no means a fait accompli, pressured GOP leadership has been hastening to secure support necessary from their colleagues to stave off an undesired and unlikely coalescence of fiscal and big government hard-liners.

Republican objections to the paltry cuts brokered in last week's budget deal by Democrats and the GOP are not difficult to find. "While I respect that some of my Republican colleagues will ultimately support this spending deal, I believe voters are asking us to set our sights higher," Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), said in a statement, explaining why he would not be voting for the bill.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), was considerably less circumspect in a letter to colleagues urging them to vote no on the bill. "The much-ballyhooed 2011 continuing resolution will leave the federal government spending $1.6 trillion more than it takes in," he wrote. "The only 'good news' from the 2011 CR would be that it adds less debt than President Obama's plan, but it does not appreciably change the accumulation of debt."

The budget proposal reduces spending by $39.9 billion, as compared to President Obama’s proposed budget. As Senator Paul observed, the 2011 budget as a whole remains a "deficit budget" that will just as surely increase the national debt, just not quite as quickly. While passing a balanced budget was never considered even a remote possibility by hard-line fiscal conservatives, the spending reduction seemed pitifully small.

Yet others, particularly GOP leadership, continue to whistle past the graveyard. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor expressed sympathy with his colleague’s frustrations, but said this was the best deal the GOP was going to get this year. “I know that Jim Jordan and others are frustrated; I’m frustrated too,” he said. “The House position was $61 billion. This is the best deal we could have gotten, given the situation we were served up by the Democrats being in charge of the Senate and the White House.”

On the other end of the political spectrum, some Democrats from the far-left complained that spending cuts were too deep to tolerate. “I'll probably vote against it if the cuts are as draconian as they have been," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), told Fox News. Seventy Representatives voted against the stop-gap spending measure last week and most of them were Democrats who objected to making spending cuts.

Accordingly, if the 2011 budget fails to pass on Thursday, it will be because the unlikely, unwitting coalition of conservative Republican budget hawks and left-wing, big-government Democrats combined to defeat the measure. Leaders of both parties hope to find enough votes in the middle to pass the bill, but the faster the national debt increases, the harder it is to avoid the question that President Obama is supposed to address tomorrow night in a nationally televised address: how do we start living within our means before it’s too late?  The right believes that deep, meaningful cuts – including cuts to the big entitlement programs – are necessary. On the other hand, the left believes that tax increases aimed at higher income individuals and corporations are the way to go. Both sides argue that a compromise position essentially kicks the can down the road a little farther and, in that sense, the vote over the 2011 budget is a microcosm of the more important and far bigger battle to reign in the national debt.

Some of the cuts included in the bill will certainly be popular on the right, like reducing the EPA’s budget by $1.6 billion and cutting spending for community health centers by $600 million. Likewise, some Democrats trumpeted the deal as a victory for their side, because Republicans didn’t get all of the cuts they wanted. Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, praised the bill for preserving “critical programs” like Head Start and Pell Grants. Yet, no one is kidding themselves into believing that this bill addresses the nation’s $14 trillion deficit in any meaningful way. When the president addresses the nation tonight, Americans will find out what plans – if any – he has to deal with that, much more important problem.