Over the past week the nation witnessed the spectacle of Wisconsin and Indiana Democrat lawmakers fleeing across state-lines into Illinois, Bonnie and Clyde-style, though in this case in hopes that their absence would stave off having to make tough decisions. Back home, their votes were needed to rescue their states from dire fiscal problems, and that is the case in states across the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the nation. Budget deficits are bulging and competition for scarce financial resources is growing more alarming.
This Prohibition-era retro replay may indeed spread to the federal government and Washington, as a new Congress grapples with its first tough budget debate. Will liberals duck responsibility again?
The federal government has been operating under a Continuing Resolution that will expire on March 4th. The House, led by Republican Speaker John Boehner (R-IL) has already passed a new Continuing Resolution (CR) that cuts approximately $61 billion from the current year's budget and keeps the government otherwise functioning through year's end. It is now up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama to decide if they will accept this modest first step towards fiscal responsibility or continue to push our nation down the unsustainable path that voters rejected in November 2010.
Will Reid and Obama actually accept that budget cuts are necessary? Harry Reid has so much as admitted that cuts are necessary, since he and his colleagues spent the past week touting the supposed $41 billion in savings his yet-to-be-released proposal supposedly includes. While it is a good step that Reid understands serious spending cuts are needed, his math simply does not add up. The Washington Post today called the claimed $41 billion cuts "disingenous and not very truthful."
The "savings" that Reid and his fellow Democratic lawmakers are suggesting will be included in the Senate CR are simply cuts from Obama's 2011 budget proposal. Of course these were never actually passed into law since the last Congress chose to not fulfill its most basic obligation and pass a budget. So, since the federal government is still operating at 2010 levels and Senator Reid's CR purportedly would fund the government at 2010 levels, this would leave cuts of precisely zero.
To put it another way, imagine if Reid has eight oranges and Obama suggests he add two to the pile. If Reid refuses to take the oranges, has he "cut" his supply by 20%? Of course not. He still has eight oranges.
This is the same false narrative that Democrats employed in December when they sold the prevention of tax hikes as a new tax "cut." The simple fact is, the nation is far past the point where symbolic – do no additional harm – gestures will do the job. The status quo may be a welcome change from the spend, spend, spend trajectory of the last two years, but it's not responsible governing.
Make no mistake, these cuts are vitally important first steps to getting control of exploding federal spending. But despite all the scary rhetoric, they would not even bring federal spending back to its pre-recession 2008 levels. Making modest cuts such as these to the remaining 2011 budget would demonstrate that Washington can be trusted to take the tough steps necessary to get spending and debt under control.
The American people demanded that this Congress make tough choices and make real cuts, and congressional Republicans promised as much in their Pledge to America. Significant cuts. This opportunity must not be allowed to pass. Capitulating would return Washington to business-as-usual, which American cannot afford.
If Senator Reid needs more time to prepare for such cuts in the form of another temporary spending bill, that too must demonstrate real and tangible cuts and policy changes completely in line with what the House passed this month. Yesterday, Speaker Boehner proposed such a stopgap that would cut $4 billion over two weeks as a sign of good faith. Surely, cutting a meager $4 billion won't stop progress, or lead to a potential government shutdown, will it?
The House of Representatives have shown leadership. If Senate Democrats and the president choose to not follow their example, then one has to wonder if they prefer the government to shutdown rather than make the necessary tough decisions.
If President Obama and Majority Leader Reid want to punt these tough choices to another time, another Congress, another generation one more time they will be abdicating their responsibilities in the same way their liberal colleagues in Wisconsin and Indiana are doing. It's time for both chambers of Congress and the White House to get to work. Kicking the can is no longer an option.