- - Wednesday, July 24, 2013

President Obama hopes to take the nation’s attention away from the IRS scandals and a royal baby (good luck with that) with a speech Wednesday. His topic, the economy, isn’t an obvious one, considering miserable economic growth numbers and 7.6 percent unemployment.

Nevertheless, this is likely a smart move. The Treasury has exhausted the national credit limit at $16.7 trillion, and the government is relying on smoke-and-mirrors accounting tricks until the continuing resolution expires. In other words, it’s time for another budget fight.

The president drew a line in the sand on Monday when he threatened to veto all House-passed appropriations bills because the House won’t spend enough. He singled out the transportation-funding bill for its parsimony with mass-transit subsidies, Amtrak and the ban on a federal contribution to California’s $70 billion (and counting) “high-speed” train to nowhere. The administration insists that every single federal bureaucrat get a raise because “a permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable.”

Vetoing appropriations bills increases presidential leverage. Were the transportation-funding bill to become law, for example, the Department of Transportation would stay open during a government shutdown. That diminishes the number of “victims” in the inevitable media melodrama to follow until the budget is resolved.

Republicans, being delicate flowers, can’t stomach drama and always fold at first hint of a shutdown. The best that House Speaker John A. Boehner could wangle in the last deal was sequestration, which to date has saved $129 billion, mostly from defense, out of a $3.7 trillion budget. Every billion saved counts, but context tells the real story. Compared to President Bush’s last year in office, Mr. Obama spent an extra $600 billion ever year by making the “temporary stimulus” permanent. Mr. Obama continues as the unchallenged big spender.

That could change; Obamacare has become the wild card in the debate. Health care exchanges are scheduled to open for business on Oct. 1, the day the government runs out of cash. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is trying to rally Republicans around the idea of refusing to approve any continuing resolution that includes funding for the health care takeover. Stopping such a takeover guarantees a government shutdown.

In 2011, only 54 Republicans in the House had the courage to vote against a government funding resolution that included cash for Obamacare; an additional 164 votes would be needed to win. Over the past two years, the impact of Obamacare — the prospect of the train wreck — has become real. That might be enough to pick up the needed votes. The administration delayed implementation of the employer mandate because it couldn’t meet the October deadline. “The president himself has now admitted that Obamacare won’t work,” says Mr. Lee. “It is unaffordable and unfair. If he won’t follow it, we shouldn’t fund it.”

The argument is compelling, but it requires Republicans to show grit, gumption and backbone. Republican leaders calculated that going along with Mr. Obama was the key to winning the Senate in 2010 midterm elections; it didn’t work. Accommodation was supposed to ensure a White House victory in 2012. That didn’t work, either.

Giving in to the president’s tax-and-spend demands has ruined the economy. Giving in now will ruin the Republican opportunity to take the Senate next year. Appeasement tempts cowardice, but it always fails. The Republicans must buy, beg or borrow a backbone.

The Washington Times