10.29.2010 0

What if Republicans Win the House?

There is going to be world of difference between what Congress will be able to accomplish in 2011 depending on whether Republicans fail to take back a majority in the House of Representatives, get the bare minimum 39 seats pick-up they need, or have a much-wider win with 50, 60, or even 70 new seats.

If recent polling is to be believed, the latter prospect of a landslide in the House may be what actually happens.

On the Senate side of the equation, Republicans are poised to pick up anywhere from seven to ten new seats. There, even if they fall short of a majority, they could be bolstered by many new faces, enabling Mitch McConnell to actually filibuster Obama’s radical agenda. Bob Bennett will morph into Mike Lee. Michael Bennet into Ken Buck. Arlen Specter into Pat Toomey. Lisa Murkowski into Joe Miller. Harry Reid into Sharron Angle.

But, how well Republicans do on Tuesday, particularly in the House, will correlate directly to how much Congress will be able to cut from the federal budget in 2011. Make no mistake: The budget will be the major ongoing battle next year and throughout the 2012 election cycle, when Barack Obama will presumably be on the ballot again. If Republicans take back the House, they will be in a position to put the sovereign debt crisis on the front-burner, and have the opportunity to address the $13.67 trillion national debt immediately.

In fact, should Republicans win, the conditions will exist for massive cuts in the budget. The die will have been cast by the American people.

So far, however, House Republicans have only promised to cut discretionary spending to 2008 levels, citing $100 billion in instant savings. Let’s assume for a moment they manage to get that done, get it through the Senate, and get Obama to sign a budget with those savings. If that’s all Congress is ultimately able to cut in from the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, assuming revenues remain flat, the current annual budget deficit would only be reduced from $1.3 trillion to $1.2 trillion.

And if that’s all House Republicans fight to cut, they will own that deficit when it’s reported in fall 2012, just when they will be going back to the American people asking for the reins of power for the presidency and the Senate (if they don’t win that body this year). But long before then, the damage would have already been done to their political fortunes and the nascent tea party movement that catapulted them back into power.

That is the danger. In short, if Republicans now reclaim the House, and in 2011 submit a budget that includes a $1 trillion-plus deficit, they will be hoisted on their own petards in 2012. They will have broken their pledge to “pay down the debt” right out of the gates by not even attempting to balance the budget.

By then, it’s quite possible the total national debt will have already soared past 100 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, which currently stands at $14.578 trillion. Those harboring the faint hope that will not cause a political earthquake the day it happens need to think again. Consider what the American people have had to put up with from Washington since the financial bailouts began in 2008, and then ask the question: “Will the American people accept a gross federal debt that is larger than the entire economy?”

It will be a political catastrophe, even more so for those responsible. Do Republicans really want the blame for that? Or would they prefer to have the ability to hold accountable those who stood in the way of balancing the budget?

If congressional Republicans fail to act in 2011 after winning one or both houses, the nation’s worsening fiscal outlook would undoubtedly dispirit the conservative base of the Republican Party. This, in turn, would create an opportunity for a third-party splinter — desperate to bring the nation’s dismal finances into order — to emerge. This would obviously spoil the GOP’s electoral prospects for 2012 and make it more likely for Obama to be re-elected.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently expressed gratitude to the tea party movement for sticking with the GOP this year. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Barbour stated, “it was tremendously important for Republican prospects in the 2010 elections that tea partiers did not run as independents or third-party candidates.”

That is noteworthy. Barbour understood that the American people had a choice, and that they decided to give the Republicans one more chance. Barbour added, “Every Republican should be pleased that these tea party candidates chose to run in our primaries. In the vast majority of cases, their participation was welcomed, even cultivated, by GOP leaders — and rightly so.”

It might not have been that way under different circumstances. It was not guaranteed that the tea party movement would support Republicans this year. The movement could have been — and critically, could still become — a third party. So, House Republicans must not assume they will get another shot at this.

Instead, if Republicans claim a majority in one or both houses of Congress, they will need to keep their now-expanding political base motivated and active. This will not be as hard as it seems.

In the House in particular, if they win, Republicans will have a major advantage. They can set the agenda. If they can keep their members in line, they would be in a position to do much, much more than a measly $100 billion in cuts.

Here’s an example. If they started by submitting a budget proposal with baseline 2007 levels of $2.7 trillion (as opposed to the current $3.6 trillion), they could reduce the deficit by about $900 billion, leaving just a $300 billion to $400 billion hole to contend with.

Then the goal could be to get that number down to zero throughout the budget process with amendments offered by eliminating unnecessary programs and spending. That would mean having the House vote to eliminate large programs like TARP, the “stimulus”, the bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, the Dodd-Frank financial takeover, and repealing ObamaCare.

It would also necessarily include going after federal subsidies, corporate welfare, and voting to eliminate whole departments and agencies, selling off 650 million acres of federal land, and smaller but still unneeded budget items like public broadcasting.

Whatever it takes, House Republicans should fight to get a balanced budget to the Senate, all the way holding individual roll call votes on individual spending cuts. At every opportunity, they could expose members who consistently vote to keep spending at unsustainable levels. This would set the table for everything that happens next.

They have nothing to lose by trying. On the Senate side, the reconciliation process could conceivably be used to avoid a filibuster. And, if it passed, by July, 2011, Republicans could hand-deliver a balanced budget to Obama. Let him veto it. Let him be the one to threaten to shut the government down. But as Americans were preparing to celebrate Independence Day, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and all of those new, younger leaders could take the airwaves, declaring the nation’s independence from foreign creditors like China.

It’d be good politics, but more importantly, it’d be good policy.

For, there is more at stake than partisan politics, D’s and R’s. The fate of future generations, their prosperity, and the hopes and aspirations of their children and their children’s children are all on the line. The American people cannot afford for the new Congress to come into power in 2011, only to watch as they simply nibble around the edges of the cataclysmic $13.67 trillion national debt.

More than anything, on Tuesday, the American people will be voting to rein in this massive, unaffordable, out-of-control government. They will be voting to save their beloved country from financial ruin. If they now choose to send Republicans back into the majority, the GOP can ill afford to disappoint them.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.

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