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The House GOP’s “High Noon Moment,” Part 2

Tuesday, February 15, 2011  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Even as criticism of the president’s abdication of all responsibility on matters fiscal escalates and deeply penetrates into the public’s consciousness, the House GOP is losing the initiative with its strongest supporters.

The messages from the GOP leadership are mixed, and none of them convey the expected sense of urgency on spending and Obamacare that drove the November vote. As I tried to explain to some Members yesterday, last week’s fiasco courtesy of the appropriators cost the Republican caucus an enormous amount of credibility. Thus requests from them for patience are much, much harder to sell, and perceived wobbliness on the repeal of Obamacare is another blow to the new majority’s reputation.

“What,” people are asking, “are they waiting for?”

That, and “What are they afraid of?”

Certainly not the base, but apparently they are very much afraid of the MSM and any talk of a “government shutdown,” proving that the specter of 1995 hangs over the leadership, despite the fact that almost everything has changed in the past 15 years.

A decade-and-a-half ago there hadn’t been a panic of 2008, soaring sky high deficits and examples of sovereign debt crises.

In 1995 there wasn’t an alternative media that extended much beyond Rush, and there certainly wasn’t a massive new job-killing law that had been jammed down the public’s throats and which had been ruled unconstitutional.

In short, the House GOP doesn’t have to fear a “government shutdown” killing its approval rating with the public like it did in 1995.

But tt does have to fear a surrender on either spending or Obamacare, and punting to the fall will be understood as surrender.

Imagine Churchill spending most of the ’30s arguing for rearmament and then, having arrived back at the Admiralty, informing the Cabinet and the public that his plans would have to wait their unveiling for half-a-year or more.

The GOP won their majority more than three months ago. It passed a symbolic repeal of Obamacare which could and has gone nowhere in the Senate, but now it has real leverage because of the ticking clock of the CR and the debt ceiling. Whatever it demands and is willing to fight for, it will get.

I think what Paul Ryan was trying to argue on my show yesterday was that the battle over spending and Obamacare would be better joined later –in the fall– on ground much to be preferred to the CR and the debt ceiling.

What I think he and the Speaker and the rest of leadership are hearing now is that the people who sent them there don’t agree with this timetable, and that the battle is best joined now, especially in light of the president’s epic irresponsibility on the budget.

The buzz about “grand bargains” and “secret deals” is also fueling the suspicion among Republican regulars, conservative volunteers and the new Tea Party contingent as conservatives have always lost such negotiations, have always been taken to the cleaners by promises of spending cuts in exchange for tax hikes.

It is hard to discern a strategy on the part of the House GOP at this moment, and all the talking points –yesterday’s list involved bites of various apples and the “open amendment” process– aren’t helping the cause. Not one person I know was motivated by the “open amendment” process as they worked for a new majority last year.

What they do want is an open confrontation with the Senate Democrats and the president over Obamacare and the spending nightmare. It has to come, so let it come now, closer to the election of 2010 and the message it sent and while there is focus and resolve.

Lay out the plan on spending for the rest of FY ’11, both its timing and its details. Announce that it is “take it or leave it,” and let the Senate explain why it won’t go along. On the FY 2012 budget, don’t wait around for the CBO and don’t go wobbly on the entitlements. The president’s incredible fecklessness left an opening the House GOP could only have prayed for on Social Security and the other entitlements. Put forward a plan and let the Democrats scream. It has to be done because unlike the president the Republicans ran on fiscal responsibility. The clock is working against the GOP, not the Democrats.

The past ten days have been very tough on the GOP because it seems to have lost confidence in its platform. This is clearly just lousy messaging and a desire to move carefully along someone’s idea of a script. But it isn’t working and has to change before the public simply gives up on the new majority as just the return of the Beltway Republicans of 2006.

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