Every establishment expert on the right these days recommends that Congressional Republicans not confront President Obama on major budget issues for fear he will resist and provoke a government shutdown, resulting in a populist uproar against GOP radicalism.
The Washington Post’s pet conservative and former George W. Bush White House wordsmith Michael Gerson is typical of the genre. He argues that Republicans have an “image problem” from the 2013 government shutdown and must respond only by “conducting small, carefully-orchestrated fights over policy rather than forcing cataclysmic battles over funding,” proposing health care, welfare and higher education reform issues instead. Budget battles are “traps” that will “wound” the GOP presidential nominee.
This minimalist strategy is supposedly supported by the Republican leadership in the House and Senate, and a majority of their members. It does not make sense. Any political science text immediately makes clear the only effective legislative branch weapon against executive power is what they label “the power of the purse.”
If Congress gives up on funding, the executive is free to do what it wills, as President Obama demonstrates every day with his Executive Orders, the latest being the creation of a whole new MyRA retirement savings program without the slightest Congressional involvement.
Gerson concedes Republican programs for education, health care and welfare will be “killed” by presidential veto or Senate filibuster. But such defeats will “present their best face to the public.” Yet, why do Republicans have an image problem in the first place? It is mostly because the mainstream media say that GOP budget shutdowns are bad things, widely broadcasting the most sympathetic cases of some poor soul disadvantaged by the government closure.
Of course, permanent appropriations such as Social Security and Medicare continue in a shutdown as do essential services. Naturally no one tells the public that only nonessential services are shuttered.
So why should the media then tell the public about all of the wonderful attributes of the GOP programs on education, health and welfare, to present its best face to the public?
Of course, they will not. All of these wonk proposals on policies that do not influence how people vote will at best circulate on narrow-casted ideological media whose audiences prefers real battles on funding and other hot issues — in fact antagonizing them with only minor scuffles.
These issues will go down the memory hole leaving vaguely dissatisfied Republicans, annoyed Democrats, and uninformed independents. The sad fact for conservatives and Republicans is that every survey of mainstream media, culture and education shows their leaders are overwhelmingly left-leaning and their membership disproportionally liberal.
They, of course, argue ideology does not influence their reporting but that fools no one but themselves. Indeed, the only way for conservatives to crack the mainstream media is to do something its elite dislikes. Sure, it will report in the most unfavorable way possible without looking too overtly biased but at least it will be reported. So Republicans will discover their representatives are actually doing something right.
Liberals will be motivated too, but polls prove their audience is only half the size of the conservative one. Moderates certainly will be misled by the media bias but not much more than they would be about education, health or welfare policies.
Two genius law professors — John O. McGinnis of Northwestern University and Michael B. Rappaport of the University of San Diego — have the solution. A big proposal that will incense the left so the media must report it and which will not only warm the hearts of Republicans but will be popular with the middle too. They propose a bill to stop government shutdowns altogether. Of course, President Obama would like to veto such a bill but he would then have to expose himself as actually liking government shutdowns so he can rule by Executive Order instead.
The McGinnis-Rappaport plan is to change the law, primarily the Anti-deficiency Act, to continue non-discretionary spending when there is an impasse, to automatically pass the previous year’s budget at 95 percent of its authorized value. This would both alleviate serious inconveniences and increase the negotiating leverage of anti-spending legislative forces.
A 5 percent cut would in fact represent a conservative victory. To minimize the game of cutting only the most politically-sensitive programs, the professors would add a provision requiring agencies to reduce the 5 percent by means that would be the least destructive and costly. There is even a chance many Democrats in Congress might find such a proposal difficult to oppose.
Even if defeated, the McGinnis-Rappaport proposal would have a decent chance to win public opinion and help prepare the way for the next Republican president — perhaps as early as 2016.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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