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Will Boehner 2.0 Launch?

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My prediction on best campaign slogan for 2012: “I was nowhere near DC in the summer of 2011.”

Perhaps that can still be avoided.

The Wall Street Journal editorializes this morning in favor of Boehner 2.0, even as it recognizes the danger posed by the proposal’s “supercommittee”:

In the second stage, the House and Senate would convene a 12-member joint select committee with a deficit reduction goal of $1.8 trillion by November. The majority and minority of both chambers would each make three assignments, and any plan that secured seven votes or more would get an up-or-down vote in both chambers with no amendments.

The danger for the GOP is that the committee could end up proposing tax increases, since the committee’s only remit is the deficit, not the larger fiscal landscape or the size of government. A poorly chosen Republican nominee could defect, and any structural change to entitlements almost certainly can’t pass the Senate.

As the Speaker reworks his spending cuts –and conservative support would require 2012 cuts at least as great as those passed in the House Budget– he ought to release the names of his three appointees to this supercommittee, and they all ought to be strong fiscal conservatives and pro-defense. The greatest worry some critics of the plan have is that it becomes the easy road to reckless defense cuts. If one GOP member of the panel starts carving up Defense, then the proposal goes to the House floor where anti-war Democrats join with isolationist Republicans and uber-deficit hawks to hollow out the military.

For others, like the Journal, the worry is tax hikes dressed up as “tax reform,” especially the ongoing assault on the mortgage interest and charitable deductions. I asked the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes yesterday what Ways and Means Chair David Camp would want if he was on the supercommittee and Barnes confessed no one really knows.

The Boehner plan calls for enormous leaps of faith, and for very little in the way of immediate cuts and a great deal of risk of a runaway supercommittee that effectively guts the power of the GOP Caucus to put the brakes on.

If the Speaker wants to sell the supercommittee, he should name the supercommittee.

Then there is the issue of the 2012 appropriations bills. In the showdown over the CR in the spring, budget hawks told conservatives not to worry about the paltry level of spending cuts then, for the big money was in the entitlements and the 2012 budget, when an entire year was on the table. Now the push on entitlements is being turned over to the supercommittee, and the Senate will almost certainly do nothing with any of the appropriations bills, setting up another CR battle for which little has been done by way of preparation, such as having all appropriations bills, but especially Defense, already passed and over to the Senate so that daily the Speaker and others could blast the Senate for inaction.

To gather support for Boehner 2.0, the House Leadership has to show a plan for this next phase of the spending war, one that doesn’t leave the House GOP waiting to hear what the Speaker brings back from the White House in a last minute deal.

Proponents of Boehner 2.0 argue that the GOP cannot take the political hit of a financial crisis triggered by downgrades, just like they argued the GOP could not endure the political hit of a government shutdown in the spring, and just as they probably argue the Party cannot take a political hit for a shutdown in the fall, or the winter of 2012, or the spring of 2012, or when the supercommittee deadlocks or brings forth a nightmare “compromise.”

The unspoken problem is that the House GOP is rapidly running out of all credibility, which it began to bleed with the chairmanship elections of last year. Every single major turning point except the Budget vote –which had no immediate impact and did not require standing up to the president– has seen the House GOP fold, and not just fold, but fold after chest-thumping.

Beltway Republicans have persuaded themselves they are doing a fine job and some Manhattan-Beltway pundits are cheering them on.

But someone point to a win –any win– since November 2010.

The estimable Bill Kristol says it is a time for choosing –you are either with Boehner or with Obama. I have to disagree with Bill: It ought to be a time when the House Leadership is working hard to listen to and accommodate conservatives’ concerns, especially about defense, and to rework rather than dictate. Really, Bill, how hard can it be to name the three appointees and cut $100 billion in non-defense spending from next year’s 3,500 billion in spending?

“We only have one-half of one-third of the government” is the now infamous squeak of an excuse for the failure to figure out a plan for 2011. If the Speaker and his team want to avoid an epic fail, want to rally conservatives in and outside the House, they will make some deep cuts in 2012, announce their appointees to the supercommittee and make sure that the worst that comes out of the next 15 months is stalemate, which shouldn’t be oversold as anything but a waiting on the November 2012 election.

And they won’t stop communicating with the conservatives the moment the crisis has passed. It is a very good thing that the Speaker talked to Rush and Hannity etc this week. Too bad it took nine months for him to call in and talk to the millions of activists who listen –every day.



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