In Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s view, the only thing that can be as bad as a budget agreement put together by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid is one that’s engineered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and now-former House Speaker John Boehner.
Fellow Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson sees things differently. He won’t sign onto a Democratic budget plan, but he’s more likely to go along with his good friend, Boehner, if it means breaking a congressional stalemate.
The two remained true to form in their recent votes on the bipartisan budget agreement that was approved in both houses.
Labrador complains that the deal was slapped together less than 48 hours before the House voted on its passage, which is hardly enough time for members to crunch the numbers. “Simply put, this bill was bad,” Labrador said. “It raises spending and increases the debt ceiling without enacting any real reforms.”
Simpson calls his a “responsible” vote in support of the budget agreement. “In addition to preventing a catastrophic national default, this agreement achieves long-term savings through entitlement reform, delivers predictability and certainty to the appropriations process and the funding of our national defense, and repeals an onerous mandate put in place by Obamacare,” he said.
Are these guys talking about the same bill? Do they live in the same state, or on the same planet?
I’ll give the nod to Simpson on this one. Labrador has made some impressive headway with his “Divide and Conquer” mentality in the GOP caucus, which I will get into more in a future column. But it doesn’t work so well in a Congress in which almost half of the members are Democrats – or in a Senate in which at least 60 votes are needed to pass anything.
Alternatives to a budget agreement include a government shutdown and decline in financial markets. That’s just what we need before the holiday shopping season – a nation on edge and lacking confidence. President Obama, no doubt, would raise the stakes and impose some high-profile cuts to make Republicans look worse.
Some Republicans will argue that government shutdowns are politically smart. The GOP took hits after the shutdown in 2013, but gained control of both houses of Congress after that. I’d argue that Republican control was more the result of overall Democratic incompetence than the government shutdown. Closing down the government is horrible public policy at any time, but it would be a political disaster for the GOP with a presidential election looming.
If Republicans want different priorities, they should unite behind a presidential candidate who can win an election – starting with someone who can win his/her home state. It also would help if Sarah Palin was not part of the ticket.
Simpson acknowledges that the budget agreement has faults. “I have concerns about the crop insurance provisions and the Medicare cuts to hospitals,” he said. “But I realize that this agreement is necessary for the health and stability of our economy.” He sees some good things from the bill, such as installing sensible budget caps, ensuring stability of the Social Security Trust fund and preventing Medicare premiums from going through the roof.
Labrador has a different read. He says the agreement will increase spending by $112 billion. “The debt ceiling – a vital point of leverage in winning concessions from free spenders – will be lifted until 2017. By then, our debt will approach $20 trillion.” Labrador says it’s a bill that only Democrats can love, which is why it received unanimous Democratic support.
Labrador isn’t alone with his opposition. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch also voted against the agreement.
“This bill does almost nothing to establish long-term fiscal restraint necessary to balance the nation’s budget,” Crapo says. “Instead, this measure will enable continued irresponsible government spending for the next two years, remove budget caps previously agreed to by the president and both houses of Congress, and use budgetary gimmicks to promise future savings in exchange for more spending today.”
Again, are Simpson and Crapo talking about the same legislation?
Indeed, the budget agreement may not have been the best deal that Congress could come up with, but it was the best one that Congress could get in the 11th hour. Simpson puts it well.
“This country has big problems, and the American people expect more from their elected officials than to sit on the sidelines and criticize everything that does not meet their ideologically pure standards,” he said. “That’s easy. Solving problems – also known as governing – is hard work.”