A number of influential voices (see here, here, here, and here) are weighing in on the Continuing Resolution (CR) and the 2011 budget. What they are all saying, in one form or another, is that while the debate over the CR is important, it’s a mistake for conservatives to make it their fiscal Ground Zero. What matters most is not the outcome of a debate focused on several billion dollars in discretionary spending cuts for the FY 2011 budget. The key debate is about reforming government in deep structural ways that would save trillions of dollars in the next decade.
Which brings us to the Ryan budget. Next week Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, will release the GOP House budget for FY 2012. It’s likely to include far-reaching tax and entitlement reforms, significant cuts in domestic discretionary spending, spending caps, the rollback of injurious laws, and more. We’re talking about savings of more than $2 trillion over the next decade. If that’s the case – and we’ll know by early next week – it will rank as arguably the best, most important policy document produced by any Congress in our lifetime.
Remember, too, that based on the actions they have taken on the CR, Congressional Republicans will already have cut some $100 billion in the short term (returning discretionary spending to pre-stimulus levels), as well as several hundred billion dollars over the next decade. Yet for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, some conservatives are disposed to denigrate these achievements, to characterize the House leadership as weak and unprincipled, and to make the CR a matter of strategic importance. It’s not; it’s a tactical fight that will do nothing to alter what Douglas Holtz-Eakin calls “the underlying architecture” of the modern welfare state.
I understand the disappointment with Congressional Republicans over the years; “trust but verify” certainly applies to them. And outside pressure can keep lawmakers from going wobbly. But the eagerness among some on the right to throw up their hands in disgust when it comes to Republican House members, even in advance of the 2012 budget, is odd and unmerited. If the House budget is as good as advertised, it will become a governing blueprint for conservatives – the public policy embodiment of the limited government philosophy – and will help frame the 2012 election. It would be a tremendous error in judgment for conservatives to miss the significance of this moment, to make the CR (and for some, the shut-down of the federal government) the main focus of their energy and attention.
Paul Ryan and his colleagues are attempting structural reforms that exceed anything even Ronald Reagan attempted. It is a political and intellectual undertaking of historic importance. And for conservatives, it’s a cause worth rallying behind.