“What happened to the campaign promise of $100 billion?” radio host Rush Limbaugh demanded Monday. “If $38 billion is it, there’s going to be hell to pay,” he predicted.
At 12:40 last Saturday morning, 28 GOP House members voted against the deal that House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and President Obama had announced barely two hours earlier. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, Iowa Rep. Steve King, Florida Rep. Connie Mack, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott were among the House’s 28 conservative GOP and pro-Tea Party luminaries who turned their thumbs down on the pact to reduce spending by $38.5 billion (or $79 billion below President Obama’s budget request) and avoid a government shutdown. In their view, it did not cut deeply enough.
Meanwhile, political strategist Dick Morris wants apocalypse now.
“We need to purify our party and purge it of the likes of John Boehner and all those congressmen who vote for the budget sellout,” wrote Bill Clinton’s former campaign consultant turned conservative agitator. “The Tea Party must take the lead in this purifying fire.”
While neither Mr. Boehner’s speakership nor the House GOP majority’s functionality seems in jeopardy, it is time to fuse rather than widen these fissures on the right. Instead of splitting the Republican conference and the broader free-market and Tea Party movements by violating last fall’s promise to cut this year’s budget by $100 billion, the GOP should find the money to keep its pledge to slice at least $61 billion (the pro-rated share of $100 billion for the portion of fiscal 2011 spending actually under Republican control).
Here’s how to do it:
More than $703 billion in forgotten funds languish in federal accounts all over Washington. This money was authorized for various purposes and then wholly or partially abandoned. This includes $12.2 billion hibernating at the Agriculture Department, $16.4 billion at Labor, $25.2 billion at Housing and Urban Development, $71.4 billion at Defense, and $309.1 billion at Treasury.
Some of this money arguably should be husbanded for a rainy day. However, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, at least $82 billion of these funds have been dormant for at least six years. Since Uncle Sam did not use it, he should lose it. If, after five years, Washington has not spent this cash, it should revert to the Treasury to finance spending cuts and/or tax relief.
So, from this $82 billion in moldy money, the House GOP leadership should shift $61.5 billion, add it to Friday’s $38.5 billion deal and create a $100 billion budget cut. If this is too much to ask, Republicans should place at least $22.5 billion of this overlooked cash atop the $38.5 billion on the table, to deliver a $61 billion budget cut.
If House Republicans accomplish this, they will satisfy their fall campaign promise. Rush Limbaugh, Dick Morris, frustrated Tea Party activists and perhaps a unanimous GOP conference will support this enhanced deal. Rather than splinter, the American right will remain unified and, in fact, re-energize itself for the debt-limit and “Path to Prosperity” battles ahead.
And if Democrats decide to shut down the government on Thursday - the day after President Obama unveils his debt-busting budget makeover - in order to protect taxpayer dollars that have festered since fiscal 2005, let them do so. The American people’s laughter will devolve into rage. And Democrats will lose that fight.
Deroy Murdock is a syndicated columnist and media fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.