Before we make our modest critique of GOP House Republicans gambit on spending and debt negotiations, we want to make clear that we have no monopoly on knowing the wisest path to success on these matters.
And we assume for sake of this entry that we indeed have precisely the same objectives as House Speaker Boehner and his caucus -- to reform spending (including, and most fundamentally, entitlement spending) -- and rein in the debt. And presumably there is a second, and indeed secondary, objective in all of this -- getting GOP members reelected in 2014 as well.
Using these benchmarks as the goal in mind, it appears to us that the GOP House majority is projecting a continuing air of vulnerability and weakness in its showdown with President Obama and Senate President Harry Reid in budget negotiations. COAST outlines here a simple, principled strategy that the American electorate can get behind -- simply refusing to engage in another day of deficit spending. How hard is this, politically or policy-wise?
So, on to the Speaker Boehner's current strategy. We sort of understand. Like Sam Houston's battle against Santa Anna after the defeat at the Alamo, engage in strategic retreat until the opposition is worn and vulnerable, and then attack. And Houston maintained that strategy patiently until it was ready to work.
The House strategy is to force Harry Reid and his Democrat Senate to actually pass a budget after nearly four years without one, and failing to do so implement Warren Buffett's idea of cessation of Congressional pay until it is done. This new strategic move is designed to change the terms of the debate, smoke out the democrats, and finally embark on a national dialogue, or at least a Washington dialogue on the direction we are taking this nation.
We must admit that, negotiating from a position of weakness, it is a novel approach, and one that might well unstick the position in which we find ourselves. We concede that given the serial defeats and retreats (at times both foolish and strategic) on budgetary matters by House Republicans it is creative.
But with the starting point of "from a position of weakness," these incrementally defeatist strategies might make some modicum of sense. And that's the problem. Before the GOP re-took the House in 1994, it wandered 14 long years in the wilderness of under the leadership of Bob Michel, House Minority leader. As his Wikipedia entry tells us during his minority leadership, he "was noted for his bipartisanship in striking bargains." And that was the problem. Michael was so used to conceding and compromising that the political and moral suasion that could have grown from principled leadership was abandoned in favor of acceptance of perpetual minority status.
That trend of abdication of political leadership was abandoned in one of the finest hours of GOP leadership in 1994 under GOP hear-apparent Newt Gingrich who enacted the Contract with America and stormed the walls of the Washington with a stunning takeover of the House. In due respect to Gingrich, this was not a personal triumph of his, but a triumph of ideas and the power of the electorate to believe in people who follow the vision put before them.
The problem with the GOP strategy playing out in Washington is not the repeated retreats -- that look a lot like abandonment of principle -- its that they have become so entirely predictable that they are de-inspiring an America that needs leadership now more than ever.
If Speaker Boehner has a Sam Houston strategy behind his patient strategic retreats, he might want to clue the rest of us in so we can get on board for the long slog to victory.