After the president’s Monday press conference, the House GOP has two choices to debate in Williamsburg: to play to win now or to win the 2014 elections. Either is respectable. They are potentially –probably—incompatible. Either is preferable to the drift of the last 11 weeks. GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues will almost certainly support any reasonable strategy adopted by the House, so the action is in Williamsburg.
If the House GOP decides to play to win now, it will fully articulate the serious reforms of entitlements that are necessary to win a hike in the debt ceiling, those being a hike in the eligibility age for Medicare to match that of Social Security, a raising of that same Social Security retirement age, a block granting of Medicaid to the states with an annual cap, and the dreaded “chained CPI.” Each innovation being worth a half trillion in debt ceiling authority. The president can buy debt ceiling peace for serious entitlement reform, or he can have a government shut-down with all of its real or imagined chaos. He doesn’t have to negotiate. He simply has to chose.
An alternative is to simply refuse to engage in this absurd debate over whether the president is a responsible man –he isn’t, no matter what the Beltway protectors of him say– give the president 2 trillion in debt authority, assign him the consequences and begin the campaign for 2014 now with a focus on the Senate and remind the public again and again that the president would not negotiate so that the debts are his and his alone. Adopt my pal Levin’s charcaterization of the president as an “Imperial President,” and refuse to induldge the junior high school theater of yesterday’s presser’s “they say bad things about me on the floor,” even though no one has in fact called the president a socialist on the floor.
I prefer the first course, but the second course is not irrational. What makes no sense is endless bargaining over nonsense slogans like “$1 in cuts for every $1 in debt authority.” This means nothing to an average voter. So EPA gets $1.1 billion instead of $1.2 billion and the president can borrow $100 million more. The size of government does not change and there is no path laid out to fiscal responsibility.
The GOP has got to go up the hill or run down it. Charge the president or retreat. But it cannot mill around half-way up the hill holding a pretend debate until the Speaker yells retreat. The political casualties of that course will be enormous.
If the GOP retreats on real entitlement reform and gives up the debt ceiling, they can chose to spend the next two years defending defense and the military, crafting immigration legislation and doing so responsibly (See Jen Rubin’s post on Paul Ryan’s support for Marco Rubio’s plans) and holding hearings on the president’s various insanities like Fast and Furious and Obamacare, all the time pointing out the spending and debt crisis the president wouldn’t fix and preparing to win the Senate in 2014 so the president can be confronted by real choices not covered for by Harry Reid. It is true that a bond crisis could intervene, but if so, the president will own it and the GOP will have articulated how it could have been avoided.
Whichever way the GOP goes, it does have to choose, it has to articulate and defend its choice, and it does have to stick with its choice if it wants to avoid a blowout in 2014. Republicans and conservatives have the patience for a long fight, but not an incoherent one.