The current debt ceiling fight that is being waged in Washington is rare, as it starkly presents clear differences between the political parties in ways that voters can understand on an issue of national importance. The result of this battle will likely have major implications of the 2012 elections, and, more importantly, on the fiscal health of our nation for the next generation.
Republicans, and primarily conservatives, have skillfully utilized this moment, to push fundamental budget reform uphill. The forces of the status quo, who have gotten fat and happy from federal spending levels of 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), are violently resisting the overspending straightjacket that the Cut, Cap, Balance plan represents.
It would be very easy for Republicans to wash their hands of a president who is biologically incapable of leading. If a speech or a lecture were necessary, he would be the most qualified person in the world for the task. But alas, what is needed is a statesman, a negotiator, a legislator, in the White House. Trustworthiness and commitment, not hope and change.
But conservatives and the more than 180 groups who have made up the Cut Cap Balance Coalition (for whom, in full disclosure, I have consulted) have driven this political battle from the very beginning. Now, as it nears some kind of conclusion, it’s important to consider the ramifications, on policy and politics.
Several courageous leaders in Congress, like Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congressmen Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Joe Walsh (R-IL) have consistently put the next generation ahead of the next election. Republicans aren’t stupid – they can see that if they simply increase the debt limit, maybe make Democrats vote against a reasonable plan to cut and restrict spending, it will redound to their political benefit next November. A likely result is maintaining majority control of the House, taking back the U.S. Senate and perhaps winning the White House.
But these conservative leaders have said winning an election is not enough. What about the country?
The last two general elections in November 2008 and November 2010 were wave elections, which is rare. Even rarer would be witnessing a fourth consecutive wave election.
But, it’s possible.
In order for Republicans to create the circumstances for a fourth wave election, they should:
1) Hold firm on Cut, Cap, Balance – after passing in the House with 5 Democrats, the bill came up four votes shy in the U.S. Senate last Friday. A CNN poll released last week showed that 66 percent of the American people support it. It is currently the only plan that has passed either house, winning bipartisan support. It could be slightly amended to increase the chances for Senate passage.
2) Force votes on the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) in both Houses before Aug. 2 – these votes should occur as late as possible, to encourage maximum public pressure. A BBA, as it is a Constitutional amendment, requires a 2/3 vote in both Houses (290 in House, 67 in Senate) to be sent to the states for ratification, where 3/4 of the states must approve. In the House you would need all Republicans and 50 Democrats, while in the Senate you would need all 47 Republicans (all have cosponsored a BBA) and 20 Democrats. It hard, but not impossible. It is not inconceivable. In the 1990s only one vote in the U.S. Senate prevented a BBA from being sent to the states.
The policy benefits of Cut, Cap, Balance are unmistakable. The Cut, Cap, Balance plan reduces spending in the short term, caps spending in the medium term (over ten years) and then over the long term requires a balanced budget, to be implemented in about seven years. It is the only plan that will protect America’s AAA bond rating and actually solve the problem.
The policy benefits of a BBA are not debatable. Americans want a BBA by more than 70 percent and 49 states have one type of balance budget requirement or another. Americans wonder: individuals, families and businesses have to balance their budgets, why doesn’t Washington?
The political benefits of holding firm to Cut, Cap, Balance and forcing votes on a BBA will be significant. Have you heard a Democrat explain why he or she opposes the BBA? Their explanation is unintelligible gibberish. They mumble something about how it is the responsibility of Congress to do it. That’s the problem. Congress has been irresponsible for the last 12 years, in both parties. Irresponsible people do not choose to be responsible – you must give them no choice.
Imagine the power of the debate on a balanced budget playing out in all 50 states, with many states voting in November 2012. Would statewide and local Democratic candidates oppose a 70 percent issue? They would at their peril.
President Obama and Congressional Democrats are scared to death of having their spending power checked. They don’t trust the voters to decide.
One way or another – either through a BBA or in the likely wave election of 2012 – the voters will decide.
Matt Mackowiak is a Washington- and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He is unaligned in the 2012 campaign and has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and one governor, and has worked on two winning campaigns.