- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000


Tides can turn. Solid ground can quake. And political clichs can be freshened into new metaphors.
One of the most universally held bits of conventional wisdom, believed by media cognoscenti and Republican activists alike, is that Republicans in Congress are again fated to suffer big losses when the annual Washington budget battle reaches its climax this fall.
As a former press aide for the House Appropriations Committee, I've seen fellow staffers crunch honest numbers while Republican congressmen try to negotiate honestly with the White House, only to be flummoxed again and again.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Republicans this year have the rare chance to seize the political cliffs from President Clinton.
Cliffs can be scaled, as at Omaha Beach. But as Grant's Union army showed at Vicksburg, cliffs are sometimes best approached through flanking maneuvers. It just takes the right general to do the flanking. And the Republicans must recognize that their general isn't in Congress. Their general is Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and their fates this year are inextricably linked.
Congress' job this year should be to threaten the cliffs from the front and in making their adversary, Clinton-Gore, defend them, to make the administration expose its flank. Here's how:
First, threaten from the firm ground of principle, with conviction. In budgetary terms, that means this is the year to pass bills with the strongest fiscal discipline, and to pass them all with breathtaking speed. Do it in plain sight without side deals, without hidden pork, without a single concession to favored lobbies for purely political purposes. If necessary, turn friends as well as foes away from the trough.
Republicans should loudly proclaim that they are upholding as much as possible of the honor of the original budget agreement that ensured today's record surpluses. And they should let their popular legislative colonel, John McCain, lead the rhetorical charge.
Bill Clinton won't be able to contain himself. He'll see in his mind's-eye, and in the political array below his cliff-perch, a replay of the 1995 government shutdown. He'll see the easy target of Republican zealots making their same old mistakes. He'll start lobbing huge boulders of vetoes and flaming arrows of populist demagoguery at the Republicans.
That's when Mr. Bush should come in, from a different angle entirely. With confident grace, with a voice exuding reasonableness, the Texas governor should call on both sides to accept an easily understandable compromise.
And, congressional Republicans should all fall in line, while Mr. McCain provides cover by blistering Mr. Clinton for being a liberal, big-spending porkmeister. The GOP Congress should immediately re-pass every spending bill, to exactly the specifications suggested by Mr. Bush.
Suddenly, the president and his whole party would find their backs to the very cliffs they thought they were defending. If they reject a compromise offer that's simple enough for an only semi-attentive public to understand, they will suddenly be the bad guys who are responsible for all the black noise of bickering that the public disdains. If they reject the compromise, they will be the ones shutting government down. If they reject the offer, they will be the ones insisting on "spending the Social Security surplus."
But if they accept, Mr. Bush gets the credit for leadership. He gets the credit for showing ability to achieve bipartisan consensus.
And the Republican Congress gets the credit for not fitting the media stereotype of overzealous Scrooges. Republicans get the credit for knowing both when to stand on principle and when to find reasonable compromise. They get the credit for being able to follow wise leadership when it's offered.
Meanwhile, because they set such a low spending line to start with, they will still almost certainly save taxpayers more money than they would if they play the slippery budget games of tiny, ever-shifting adjustments at which the president so excels.
Then, if the electorate responds as it likely will, Republicans will simultaneously hold the White House and both Houses of Congress for the first time since Eisenhower's first term.
And, in the spirit of the old D-Day commander, that's when the real frontal assault should begin an assault not against compassion, not against cultural pariahs, not against anything at all, but rather an assault on behalf of common sense and individual liberty and the ideals of the country's founders. All done with firmness, but with a reassuring smile.
The smile of gracious victors.

Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer for the Mobile Register

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