By clearing the decks of the bipartisan budget deal, some political observers say, the GOP establishment is banking on the idea that giving up ground in the spending battle now will pay off over the long run by allowing Republicans to avoid getting punished for another government shutdown.
According to this scenario, if there’s no government shutdown, Republicans can focus on the 2014 congressional elections and bank on the growing opposition to Obamacare to strengthen their numbers on Capitol Hill. In the best case, they could add the Senate to their control of the House and be in a better position to pursue the spending reductions and limited-government policies that Democrats have thwarted in recent years.
“This was the establishment wing of the party telling the base that elections have consequences,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “Because Obamacare is the golden goose for 2014, they don’t want to have anything interfere with making as many gains as possible in Congress — particularly in the Senate.”
House Republican leaders and some rank-and-file party members also suggested Thursday that was their grand plan. Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the lead Republican budget negotiator, told his colleagues that “elections have consequences.”
“To really do what we think needs to be done, we are going to have to win some elections,” Mr. Ryan said.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, also said “elections have consequences” and told reporters that House Republicans who pushed nearly 50 times to repeal, defund or dismantle the Affordable Care Act will continue next year to “look for ways to protect the American people from Obamacare.”
It wasn’t all the Republican leadership, either.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican and a tea party favorite who said she opposes the deal on the merits, noted the political calculations favorably.
“The real goal right now is to have an election and get people in to deal with the biggest budget killer there is right now, and that is Obamacare.”
By passing the budget, “we can focus on what people care about, which is that government is hurting them with Obamacare,” she said on Fox News.
The proposal, which easily passed the House, reduces the deficit by $23 billion over 10 years without raising taxes but includes some fee increases and requires new federal workers to pay more for their retirement benefits.
However, it also eliminates two years’ worth of “sequester” cuts that were part of the 2011 Budget Control Act. These additions to Pentagon and non-defense spending amount to $63 billion in the next two years, conservatives note.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, says it will pass. A number of Republicans in that chamber who face primary challenges from the right in next year’s elections, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, have signaled they will oppose the deal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who also has rivals in his primary, announced late Thursday that he also opposes the bill because it lowers the cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees younger than 62.
“Our men and women in uniform have served admirably during some of our nation’s most troubling times,” Mr. Graham said. “They deserve more from us in their retirement than this agreement provides.”
The budget compromise has come under heavy fire from conservatives, who accused House Republican leaders of trying to put a positive spin on a poor strategy that included giving up what most consider their best bargaining chip — the across-the-board “sequester” cuts — that they have had in spending showdowns with Democrats.
“It completely undermines the broader Republican push to cut spending,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. “It seems they just wanted to clear the decks here so they can spend the next year here complaining about Obamacare before the election, which they should. But there is no reason why Republicans should not be able to talk and chew gum at the same time.”
Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, questioned how Republicans planned on taking on Obamacare.
“What they have basically done with this deal is given up their best point of leverage that the Republicans and conservatives have had and in exchange for that they have increased spending by $63 billion and ensured that deficits would increase over the last three years of the Obama administration.”
Republican strategist Keith Appell also suggested the strategy was misguided and could hurt the party’s chances of winning more seats in the House and Senate next year.
“Republicans are very good at talking the talk when it comes to cutting spending. The sequester was the first time in decades where they actually walked the walk — and now they’re walking away from it,” Mr. Appell said. “This will leave them with little, if any, credibility on cutting spending. Why should anyone believe them anymore?”
With polls showing that more than six in 10 conservatives disapprove of the job Republicans are doing in Congress, he posed the question: “How does spending even more money we don’t have encourage their base to turn out in 2014?”