House Speaker John A. Boehner denied President Obama and his allies what they wanted most of all - a shutdown of the government's nonessential functions. The Democrats already had distributed the talking points labeling Republicans as "extreme" for daring to suggest that the government shouldn't be borrowing quite so much money this year. Now Mr. Boehner has succeeded in robbing Democrats of their message.
That puts Mr. Obama in a difficult position Wednesday as he makes a major policy speech to defend his 2012 budget submission, which asks for another $3.7 trillion in spending. Feigning concern, the president will claim tax increases on "the rich" will cover his deficit. When the battleground is fiscal responsibility, the biggest-spending chief executive in the world's history can hardly make a convincing case that he's a budget hawk.
Mr. Obama's credibility is already slipping. In a Rasmussen Reports survey released Monday, the number of people expressing strong support for the president dipped to just 19 percent. It's not going to get any stronger once the White House strategy officially shifts from borrow-and-stimulate to the classic Democratic tax-and-spend line. Everyone in the rest of the country realizes Uncle Sam needs to go on a diet, but Democrats aren't about to give up on their scheme of doling out taxpayer money to political friends.
The Tea Party Patriots don't see it that way and called the budget deal a "hollow victory." To be sure, reducing the increase in federal spending by just $38.5 billion represents a few crumbs left over on the table after an enormous binge. The reality is that even the original Republican target of $100 billion in savings would not have yielded a real cut. In the first half of fiscal 2011, the government already has spent $179 billion more than it had spent in 2010, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office figures - and there are still six more months to go.
Instead of going after a symbolic victory of $100 billion or $61 billion, Mr. Boehner wants to fight on the high ground: the 2012 budget proposal offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. The document outlines the first real, non-Washington cut in federal outlays in almost 50 years. It offers reforms to entitlement programs without which the books are never going to balance. The modest spending blueprint offers a cohesive vision of where we need to be as a country. In the war of words, Mr. Ryan's budget will be easier to defend than a stalemate over what the sneering class described as "policy riders."
The exact language of the 2011 budget deal has yet to be released, but the agreement includes a few concessions that will be useful in the long haul. An audit of various aspects of Obamacare will reveal the program's true cost. Senate votes on this and taxpayer funding of the abortionists at Planned Parenthood will be useful in the 2012 Senate campaign. On Friday, Republicans secured an immediate $2 billion in total spending reductions from programs close to the president's heart, including $1.5 billion in high-speed rail and $280 million for light rail, monorail and "people mover" systems.
In the weeks to come, Mr. Obama will find it harder and harder to get away with pushing his big-spending plans. With a vote on raising the debt ceiling looming, more concessions are on the way for Republicans.
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