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LAMBRO: Sifting through the remains on the battlefield

The Republicans learn they can’t win without the votes

There was little to like in the budget bill that passed Congress by strong vote margins this week and temporarily reopened the government.

It kicked the can down the road for a few more months, meaning that Congress will have to deal with this mess all over again early next year — further raising the debt ceiling and passing a budget bill to fund the government through the end of fiscal 2014.

The government is still drowning in a sea of wasteful, unaffordable, runaway spending and piling up trillions of dollars in additional debt. More than $6 trillion of it has accumulated under President Obama — weakening our frail economy, killing job creation and destroying the American dream.

The White House is paralyzed by inaction, and Congress is a divided battlefield that has proven to be incapable of prudently managing the government's finances. After some staged public-relations meetings with House and Senate leaders, Mr. Obama refused to get his hands dirty in the budget process and bears plenty of blame for the crisis we just went through.

Even his former defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, who was a key broker in the 1995 government shutdown, took his former boss to task for his inept handling of the budget war. In a meeting with reporters Monday, Mr. Panetta prefaced his remarks by praising the president for having "the right instincts about what needs to be done for the country."

However, Mr. Panetta said, without referring to Mr. Obama by name, "You have to engage in the process. This is a town where it's not enough to feel you have the right answers. You've got to roll up your sleeves, and you've got to really engage in the process ... that's what government is all about."

In other words, the president was a bystander, putting out self-serving political statements and accusations each day, but never getting down into the arena and the rough-and-tumble of negotiations needed to produce a long-term solution to the debt crisis that endangers our country's future.

This isn't a time to mince words. "The president's victory was accomplished through deception and demagoguery," says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

We were never in danger of defaulting on our debt, he says. The feds rake in $250 billion in taxes each month. If the debt ceiling had not been raised, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "still would have had adequate resources to pay the $23 billion in interest to the public."

There was a good deal of devious gamesmanship on the other side, too, as Republican leaders tried to sell us on the idea that they could simply end Obamacare by defunding it in a budget bill. If you believed this, I have a bridge in San Francisco I can sell you for a pittance.

This idea was being sold by some hard-line lawmakers who can't count. Did they truly think a defunding bill would pass the Democrat-controlled Senate? If, in their wildest imagination, it did pass, did they think Mr. Obama wouldn't veto it, or that they could win the two-thirds vote needed to override his veto in both houses of Congress?

Consider this surprising admission on Wednesday from Michael Needham, who heads Heritage Action, the hard-driving political action arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which led the months-long, nationwide drive to defund Obamacare:

"Well, everybody understands that we're not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017 and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House," he said on Fox News.

"So, Sen. Ted Cruz was deceiving voters by saying the GOP could accomplish this by 'not blinking'" in his faceoff with Mr. Obama, writes The Washington Post's right-leaning blogger Jennifer Rubin.

If this sounds like certain conservatives are careening off-course with pig-in-a-poke promises and some dubious strategies, consider this whopper: One of the best provisions in an early version of the House budget bill was the one that called for repeal of the tax on medical devices. There was bipartisan support in Congress for eliminating it, but Mr. Needham's Heritage Action dumped all over it.

In a Wall Street Journal interview, he said that its repeal would be nothing more than "corporate cronyism," voicing a full-throated anti-tax-cut position that had liberals cheering and would have won praise from Mr. Obama. Mr. Needham said that "with all the pain and suffering that Obamacare has inflicted on the country, to get out of this fight and repeal a tax that affects just one industry is pretty laughable."

"Mull that one over," the Journal wrote in a lead editorial Monday, titled "Strange Political Devices."

"The Heritage Foundation pitches itself to donors as a think tank that supports economic growth and small government. But now the foundation's political arm claims that eliminating a destructive $29 billion tax on a job-creating American industry is no different than a subsidy for Solyndra or a Wall Street bailout."

Mr. Obama's tax is on devices such as artery stents, hip and knee replacements, life-saving body scans and other innovative products that save and extend the lives of millions of people. Eighty percent of the companies that make these products employ 50 or fewer workers. All told, they employ about 400,000 Americans.

Other conservatives dismissed this punitive Obama tax on business as unimportant, suggesting that a key flank on the right is losing sight of bedrock free-market positions on pivotal economic issues. Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp would be aghast.

Obamacare is a very bad law that is already running into deep trouble. It is killing jobs throughout our economy, raising health insurance costs and diminishing medical care in our hospitals, where thousands of workers are being laid off.

It won't be repealed until Republicans have the votes in the Senate and a president in the White House. It's that simple and that hard.

Meantime, an unsustainable budget and mushrooming debt remain largely untouched. They won't be fixed, either, until conservative leaders like Ted Cruz and others climb into the budget-making arena and get their hands dirty.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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