Ethics & Public Policy Center

Not Worth the Showdown

Published in New York Times



On the matter of a possible government shutdown, this needs to be said: The impasse is the product of a striking failure of governance by President Obama and his party.

The reason we’re debating the 2011 budget several months into the fiscal year is because for the first time in almost four decades, Congress failed last year to propose a budget. Despite Democratic control of both houses and the executive branch, Congress failed to meet one of its most basic obligations. That said, those Republicans who are eager for a showdown and a shutdown of the federal government are making a serious strategic mistake.

First, the cuts and concessions Republicans have already secured will return domestic discretionary spending to pre-Obama levels. This is a fairly remarkable achievement, and conservatives would be silly to ignore it.

Second, President Obama, in matching spending cuts that Republicans asked for earlier this year, has positioned himself fairly well in terms of blaming the Republicans for a shutdown, if it happens.

Third, the difference between the two sides is less than $10 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget. This isn’t a difference over which it is worth shutting down the federal government.

Fourth, Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, submitted a budget for fiscal year 2012 earlier this week that saves more than $4 trillion over the next decade. It’s a political and intellectual document of enormous significance, easily the most comprehensive and impressive governing blueprint in generations. The Ryan plan is where Republicans should focus their energy and attention.

Republicans are currently winning the fiscal debate. We’re seeing unprecedented cuts in spending. There’s no reason to endanger this by forcing a government shutdown, which would scramble things in a hurry and could trigger a backlash.

Among the virtues conservatives rightly prize are prudence, foresight, and wisdom. In this instance, prudence argues for Republicans to pocket their gains, take this year’s budget off the table, and prepare for the looming battle over the Ryan plan. That will keep them plenty busy.

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and was deputy assistant to the president under George W. Bush.

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