113th Congress in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – It has become conventional wisdom that Republicans are suffering an
internal split that President Obama is successfully exploiting to neuter the
Republican House. It is not true, however, that the Republican split is
philosophical and fundamental. And that a hopelessly divided GOP is therefore
headed for decline, perhaps irrelevance.
In fact, the split is tactical,
not philosophical; short-term, not fundamental.
And therefore quite
How do we know? Simple thought experiment: Imagine that we had
a Republican president. Would the party be deeply divided over policy, at war
with itself in Congress? Not at all. It would be rallying around something like
the Paul Ryan budget that twice passed the House with near 100 percent GOP
In reality, Republicans have a broad consensus on program and
policy. But they don’t have the power. What divides Republicans today is a
straightforward tactical question: Can you govern from one house of Congress?
Should you even try? Can you shrink government, restrain spending, bring a
modicum of fiscal sanity to the country when the president and a blocking Senate
have no intention of doing so? One faction feels committed to try. It wishes to
carry out its small-government electoral promises and will cast no vote
inconsistent with that philosophy. These are the House Republicans who voted no
on the “fiscal cliff” deal because it raised taxes without touching
Indeed, it increased spending with its crazy-quilt
crony-capitalist tax “credits” – for wind power and other
They were willing to risk the fiscal cliff.
they are willing to risk a breach of the debt ceiling and even a government
shutdown rather than collaborate with Obama’s tax-and-spend second-term
The other view is that you cannot govern from the House. The
reason Ryan and John Boehner finally voted yes on the lousy fiscal-cliff deal is
that by then there was nowhere else to go. Republicans could not afford to bear
the blame (however unfair) for a $4.5 trillion across-the-board tax hike and a
Pentagon hollowed out by sequester.
The party establishment is coming
around to the view that if you try to govern from one house – e.g., force
spending cuts with cliffhanging brinkmanship – you lose. You not only don’t get
You get the blame for rattled markets and economic uncertainty.
You get humiliated by having to cave in the end. And you get opinion polls
ranking you below head lice and colonoscopies in popularity.
history here. The Gingrich Revolution ran aground when it tried to govern from
Congress, losing badly to President Clinton over government
Nor did the modern insurgents do any better in the 2011
debt-ceiling and 2012 fiscal-cliff showdowns with Obama.
postelection arrogance and intransigence can put you in a fighting mood. I
sympathize. But I’m tending toward the realist view: Don’t force the issue when
you don’t have the power.
The debt-ceiling deadline is coming
You can demand commensurate spending cuts, the usual, reasonable
Republican offer. But you won’t get them. Obama will hold out. And, at the
eleventh hour, you will have to give in as you get universally blamed for market
gyrations and threatened credit downgrades.
The more prudent course would
be to find some offer that cannot be refused, a short-term trade-off utterly
unassailable and straightforward. For example, offer to extend the debt ceiling
through, say, May 1, in exchange for the Senate delivering a budget by that date
– after four years of lawlessly refusing to produce one.
Not much. But it
would (a) highlight the Democrats’ fiscal recklessness, (b) force Senate
Democrats to make public their fiscal choices and (c) keep the debt ceiling
alive as an ongoing pressure point for future incremental demands.
small and simple. Forget about forcing tax reform or entitlement cuts or
anything major. If Obama wants to recklessly expand government, well, as he
says, he won the election.
Republicans should simply block what they can.
Further tax hikes, for example.
The general rule is: From a single house
of Congress you can resist but you cannot impose.
Aren’t you failing the
country, say the insurgents? Answer: The country chose Obama. He gets four
Want to save the Republic? Win the next election. Don’t immolate
yourself trying to save liberalism from itself. If your conservative philosophy
is indeed right, winning will come. As Margaret Thatcher said serenely of the
Labor Party socialists she later overthrew: “They always run out of other
people’s money.”Charles Krauthammer’s email address is
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