Republicans in both the Senate and the House were in disarray today. In the House, the party’s leaders had to yank their ballyhooed $54 billion budget-cutting bill when it became apparent that their attempted compromise had failed to garner majority support. In a slap at the party’s conservative base, the leadership agreed to cave in to the environmentalist lobby on ANWR oil drilling, an absolutely inexcusable move in a time of high oil prices. At the same time, “moderate” Republicans still failed to support the measure because they apparently can’t stomach even the slightest budget cuts, notwithstanding the nation’s current deficits and unprecedented spending increases.
That was bad enough, but what the Senate did may have been even worse. The Senate Finance Committee was unable to get behind an extension of the President’s tax cuts, even for a single year, let alone permanently. Olympia Snowe was the villain here, but, to be fair, all Republicans (and Democrats) who have supported tax cuts while also voting for mushrooming increases in spending are equally to blame.
So the Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot once again. The national media are having a field day, recording the party’s panic and disarray. What I want to know is, what is the source of the apparent malaise on the Republican side of the aisle?
Almost exactly one year ago, President Bush was re-elected with more votes than had ever been cast for a Presidential candidate, breaking Ronald Reagan’s 1984 record. Not only did Bush sweep to victory by a three million vote margin, the Republicans increased their majorities in both the House and the Senate, the first time this trifecta had been accomplished since 1964.
Since that triumphant moment, what has sent the party into a tailspin? Has the economy collapsed? Not at all; it is humming along as strongly as ever, steadily putting more distance between America’s prosperity and that of Europe and Japan. Have the terrorists attacked successfully, exposing a weakness in our domestic security? No. Astonishingly, we have now gone more than four years without a successful attack on American soil, even though newspaper headlines reveal, on an almost daily basis, how bloodthirsty our enemies are. This is an extraordinary record, of which all Republicans should be proud. Have there been setbacks in foreign policy that could explain how a party that was triumphant just twelve months ago should now be in full retreat? Not at all. We continue to make excellent progress in both Iraq and Afghanistan. On a number of fronts, liberty has made progress in the vital Middle East. And no foreign power even imagines that it could rival the United States in influence.
So what has happened in the past twelve months to terrify so many of our Republican office-holders? Two hurricanes struck, and some observers accused a federal agency of responding too slowly to one of them. Tom DeLay was indicted, in what was basically a bad joke, by an absurdly partisan and utterly discredited Texas Democrat DA. An aide to the Vice President has been accused of lying to a grand jury about telling the truth to the press about a mountebank Democrat’s lies about the administration. And the President’s poll ratings–more or less irrelevant, given that he can’t run for office again–have dropped into a range occupied, at one time or another, by every President from Lyndon Johnson to the present.
These are pathetic reasons for our representatives in Congress to be in a Chicken Little mode. The Republicans are rapidly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and it’s hard to say who is more to blame–the Congressional Republicans, some of whom are afraid of their own shadows, or the White House, which, in studiously refraining from responding to the most outrageously unfair and blatantly partisan attacks launched against an American administration in 145 years, seems intent on a weird kind of martyrdom.
It’s no wonder that Republicans across the country increasingly regard their elected representatives as gutless wonders. There is no objective reason why 2006 should be a disaster for the party, but it will be if our representative don’t stick together and show the voters that the Republican party still stands for security, common sense and limited government. That’s still a winning combination, but only if our representatives vote for it.
UPDATE: Dafydd ab Hugh comments on the House votes here.