Republicans are again battling each other rather than fighting against President Obama and congressional Democrats.
The conservative wing in Congress, backed by like-minded outside groups, hate to stand by while a federal budget is enacted that increases spending and adds to the $17 trillion debt dragging down our economy.
The GOP can’t seem to stick to the concept of uniting behind the principles that got them elected.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the budget deal struck by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, by a vote of 64 to 36. President Obama said he will sign the blueprint that settles spending levels for 2014 and 2015.
All 36 who voted against it were Republicans. Those included some in leadership who are in tough primary races in 2014, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.
GOP senators who have aspirations for a presidential run in 2016 also were nays, including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
When the House passed the budget last week, the most conservative members were among the 94 nays. All of the House leadership voted for the “bipartisan” deal. House Speaker John A. Boehner had greased the skids on it in order to avoid media coverage about a possible government shutdown in January.
Republican leaders want to keep the public focused on the unraveling Obamacare disaster, and not get sidetracked by a financial debate, such as the one during the first two weeks of October. Unfortunately, in their effort at conflict avoidance, they caved on keeping spending at existing legal limits.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 was a true bipartisan deal between Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans that set 10 years of budget caps that reduced the increase in spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Mr. McConnell noted in a statement Tuesday that the budget caps have been so effective that federal spending has actually decreased for the past two fiscal years — the first time that has happened since after the Korean War.
(However, the spending cuts were almost entirely out of defense and the bloated unemployment-benefit spending that Mr. Obama had demanded.)
Now the caps will be busted to the tune of $45 billion in 2014 and $18 billion in 2015.
While there are $85 billion in offsets written into the legislation, the biggest ones don’t take place until the end of the 10-year window. One truism in Washington is money spent now is real, and savings in the future never happen.
“By the time they say we’re spending less, we’ll have one or two new presidents and four different Congresses — half of today’s Congress won’t even be there,” the president of Club for Growth, Chris Chocola, told me in an interview.
“To say we’re going to do hard work later instead of today does not instill confidence in any American. All this does is create more debt, deficits and bigger government.”
Club for Growth, Heritage Action and other conservative groups opposed the budget deal and will include it in their legislative scorecards, which will matter mostly in GOP primaries.
Mr. Boehner protested that these organizations were “misleading their followers” and have “lost all credibility.”
Those who support the final deal claim it is a fair one because it establishes certainty and cuts the deficit by $23 billion.
That amount is laughable, though, as it is the equivalent of cutting only about one hour’s worth of government spending each year for 10 years.
The one benefit of the deal is it prevented the disproportionate spending cuts that would hit defense in 2014 over the rest of the bloated government. The dealmakers could have made the cuts elsewhere in the government.
Sen. Tom Coburn released his annual “Wastebook” on Tuesday, which gives plenty of examples of waste in Washington. For example, he pointed out that taxpayers spend $1.5 billion a year just to maintain federal buildings that are little used or empty.
The Oklahoma Republican also uncovered that the State Department just spent $1.5 million for high-end Simon Pearce hand-blown crystal stemware and barware emblazoned with the department’s seal.
Nevertheless, entitlement programs are the biggest driver of our debt, not these optional spending programs. While discretionary outlays have gone down recently, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have all increased — up $66 billion last year alone.
The fix is politically unpopular but necessary reforms like raising the retirement age for Social Security and means-testing for Medicare.
Republicans who voted in favor of this spending plan are going to have trouble facing their constituents.
“This budget deal does more to jeopardize their majority far more than a shutdown, because this isn’t what people elect Republicans to do,” explained Mr. Chocola, a former congressman who represented Indiana from 2003 to 2007.
“Democrats lose their legislative bodies when they actually do what they say they believe. Look how they lost the House in 2010 after passing Obamacare. Republicans lose their majorities when they don’t do what they say they believe in.”
The GOP has one more chance before the midterm elections to fight for fiscal responsibility in Washington when they can determine the conditions for raising the debt ceiling early next year.
If they cave again and agree to higher debt with no changes to the financial trajectory, then the voters are going to really know how to separate the wheat from the chaff in 2014.
Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery, 2013).