By week's end, we should know whether the House majority has what it takes to stand up for fiscal responsibility against President Obama and Senate Democrats. As the stopgap measure currently funding the federal government runs out Friday, the House is proposing to vote Tuesday on a two-week extension that includes $4 billion in cuts, but Democrats appear insistent on maintaining the current inflated spending levels. Failure to reach a settlement by the weekend would result in a shutdown of the non-essential functions of the federal government. That wouldn't be a bad thing.
When voters handed the keys to the Capitol to Ohio Republican Rep. John A. Boehner in November, they did so on a clear understanding that Washington's out-of-control spending had to stop.
The Obama administration appears to believe it can overcome this mandate by forcing a government closure not only by breaking out the usual sob stories but also by blaming further economic bad news on Republicans. As White House spokesman Jay Carney put it on Thursday, "a shutdown would be disruptive to the economy, affect our capacity to grow and create jobs." Mr. Obama has already implied (falsely) that Social Security checks were in jeopardy.
These tired gimmicks may have worked in the past, but the game has changed since the bitter 1995 showdown between then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton. The main difference is that most families today have been forced to tighten their belts and forgo luxuries in order to make ends meet. They wonder why our high-flying president is unwilling to cut back on the posh federal lifestyle. On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office increased its estimate of the Recovery Act's pricetag to $821 billion. According to the agency's most generous estimate, this money "increased the number of people employed by between 1.3 million and 3.5 million." That means, at best, each of those jobs cost a whopping $230,000 each.
Speaker Boehner would do well to take note of how Republican governors like New Jersey's Chris Christie are taking on the Democratic scare tactics over entitlement spending - and winning. "You're going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security," Mr. Christie said in a Feb. 16 Washington speech that mocked his squishy colleagues. "Oh-ho, I just said it, and I'm still standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpeting. We have to reform Medicare because it costs too much and it's going to bankrupt us."
Garden State voters have embraced their tough-talking, budget-slashing chief executive. A Feb. 9 Quinnipiac University poll had residents calling Mr. Christie's first term a success by a 54-35 margin. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they liked Mr. Christie as a person, even when they disagree with his policies. By comparison, a Rasmussen Reports poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Obama's favorability rating at 37 percent.
That shows Republicans can win if they stick to their promise to cut government. The real danger - the one Mr. Obama is counting on - is that Republicans will misread the lesson of 1995 and reach a compromise that locks in the ruinous levels of spending found in the president's budget submission. Spending our way out of a recession has been a failure, and the public is ready for change - even if that means living for a few weeks without government functions that, by definition, we can live without.
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