However, it certainly looked like a loss for conservatives because hopes had been raised that the Democrat Senate and President Obama would agree with the Republican House and defund/repeal Obamacare. Reid and Obama declined/ignored that offer.
So now what? What did we learn from Round One?
First, Republicans in Congress and conservatives across the nation need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each team. What are the pressure points? What does each side want? (It might have been a good idea to do this three months ago, but horses and barn doors….)
Second, keep in mind that Republicans and Democrats each wield a veto. The Senate can reject any House initiative. The House can reject any Senate proposal. Neither side can force the other team to accept anything. This limits one’s expectations. Strategies that insist that one team can “stand firm” and win need to take a refresher course in arithmetic and high school civics.
Third, the team that wants a change in the status quo is at a disadvantage. In August 2012 Obama wanted a gigantic hike in the debt ceiling to take him past the November 2012 election. He had to make big spending concessions to win House GOP agreement. This October, Republicans were demanding the end of Obamacare. They were fighting uphill with the sun in their eyes. The defense has the advantage in these evenly matched fights.The Senate said no.
Fourth, the threat of a shutdown or default is not a pressure point against Obama. Yes, in August 2011 Obama feared a destabilizing shutdown/default. He was running for re-election in November 2012. But now Obama is safely re-elected. He has one political goal: Win back the House in 2014. This is impossible unless there is a political earthquake. Shutdowns or defaults might rebound against the Democrats and he could lose the Senate. What would he care? As long as the Rs have the House the Democrat Senate is of no use to Obama. He cannot pass any “progressive” legislation. But a crisis might, just might, win him the House. He doesn’t fear disaster and might welcome it.
Fifth, Obama signaled early this fall that his goal was to bust the spending limits of the sequester and push for tax hikes. This is no surprise. He has begun every negotiation, in spring 2011, summer 2011, and fall 2011 demanding between one and $1.4 trillion in tax hikes. Yes, the sequester was his idea but he assumed the Republican “hawks” would help him break the limits and resume spending on everything. Didn’t happen. He wants the sequester dead.
Sixth, because Obama wants something now—the end of the sequester limits and tax hikes—his team is at a disadvantage. We now have a teaching moment of several months where Democrats will demand higher spending and higher taxes and Republicans can say “no.” This is a wonderful way to begin the campaigns of 2014 for the House and Senate.
Protecting the status quo—the sequester limits and no new taxes—is a win for the conservative movement. If the sequester holds for the full decade, spending is $2.5 trillion below Obama’s original budget.
The sequester has already begun to bend the spending curve down. Total federal spending as a percentage of the economy was 20.1 percent in Fiscal year 2006 just before the Democrats won control of the Congress. It jumped to 25.2 in FY 2009 when Democrats had the White House and Congress and it is now back down to 21.5 percent today. The GOP House has begun to heal the wounds of TARP and stimulus.
Could there be a deal that repeals bits of Obamacare? Maybe. If Obama and the Democrats believe the roll out of the program will weaken them in November 2014 this becomes possible.
Some hope that tax reform or entitlement reform could be part of a budget deal: Let us keep in mind that Democrats had complete control of the House, Senate, and White House for all of 2009 and 2010 and made no effort to reform taxes or entitlements. They increased both. Why would we assume they would do this now? There is great danger that any discussions of tax reform or entitlement reform would simply serve as a Trojan Horse for higher taxes.
The last lessons of this fall are that every single Republican in the House and Senate support abolishing Obamacare. The House has now four times voted to end Obamacare. Differences over tactics should not obscure the amazing party unity on this issue. Ted Cruz’s idea that the House alone could force the repeal of Obamacare ran into the painful reality of a Democrat controlled Senate. That does suggest how we can do better in future efforts: elect a Republican Senate.
Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. Follow him on Twitter at @GroverNorquist.