The Fiscal Deal: A Post-Mortem

The terms of the Senate “compromise” have been unveiled, and they obviously don’t give the Republicans much. The deal funds the federal government through January 15, and raises the debt limit through February 7. I am not sure what this latter term means; is Treasury authorized to borrow whatever it takes, but only until February 7? Or have they estimated an additional amount that is calculated to last until then? If you have the time and inclination to read the bill in its entirety, here it is. Feel free to leave observations in the comments if you are able to wade through it.

So the fiscal can gets kicked down the road, but not very far. Frankly, this is the best thing about the deal from the GOP’s standpoint. We will be fighting over spending again within 90 days. Next time, Republican leaders in Congress need to do a better job of laying groundwork for whatever strategy they intend to follow. They need to spend the next four months educating people (voters, primarily, as reporters are hopeless) about the fact that bumping up against the debt ceiling does not mean default and can be, in fact, an effective way to bring metastasizing federal spending under control. And they need to use the time between now and January to identify achievable goals and develop a strategy to pursue them.

Beyond the brevity of those extensions, the only consideration Republicans got was a promise that measures will be taken to prevent Obamacare fraud. In the Obamacare exchanges, the amount you pay for health insurance depends entirely on your income. The less you make, the less you pay. But so far, Obamacare applicants have been, as I understand it, on the honor system. Is that stupid, or what? It’s almost like voting. So the Democrats have agreed to measures to reduce fraud; what those measures are, I haven’t seen described in any detail.

Then, finally, we have the sequester. The Democrats, in a fit of hubris, tried to roll back the sequester cuts, but they eventually gave up on that effort. Instead, a bipartisan committee from the House and Senate will look for ways to apply the sequester cuts more rationally, while–assuming that tonight’s reports are accurate–maintaining the dollar amounts of the sequester spending reductions.

The Senate agreement, soon to be approved by the House, is being widely trashed on Twitter, but in my view, it is about as good as Republicans should have expected, given their limited bargaining position and their ill-advised opening bid of defunding Obamacare.

All over Twitter, conservatives are saying that the Right has been “sold out.” Something much better could have been achieved, many conservatives assert, if only Republicans in Congress had been willing to “fight.” Such claims are, I think, delusional. There is no plausible “fighting” that Republicans could have done that would have brought about a significantly better result. The problem in Washington isn’t that Republicans aren’t willing to fight, the problem is that there are too many Democrats, and they out-vote us. The legislative maneuver we have all suffered through for the last two weeks was the political equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade. It is not just understandable, but entirely appropriate, that after the last few weeks, the party’s Congressional leaders were looking for a way out of the valley of Death.

We conservatives obviously didn’t win this round, but if our activists learn the right lessons, the effort will not have been entirely in vain. The battle will go on.

UPDATE: One more thing–this post was incomplete, because it didn’t mention what was probably the most positive fallout of the shutdown for conservatives. While the conventional wisdom is that the shutdown hurt Republicans more than Democrats, and poll data certainly support that broad conclusion, we should also remember the Obama administration’s heavy-handed, autocratic and entirely needless shutting down of public monuments like the WWII memorial, the Lincoln memorial, and so on. This was a blunder on Obama’s part and a unifying theme for conservatives of all stripes. The press tried to downplay Obama’s foolish and vindictive actions, but it is hard to hide the fact that you are blocking people from looking at, for example, Mount Rushmore. Obama’s overreach will linger in many, many minds long after any minor inconvenience caused by the shutdown has been forgotten.