As noted earlier, the game in Washington has changed. The days of traditional American Political Horse Trading are gone, and President Obama, in particular, is playing for much higher stakes, namely the destruction of the Republican Party and an end to congressional control of the federal budget.
President Obama, with his sequestration gambit, almost trapped congressional Republicans into betraying their political base and committing political suicide. Fortunately, Republicans recognized the trap he had laid for them in time, and refused to play along. Instead of negotiating against themselves, they made a couple of offers to avoid the worst effects of sequestration, and then stood firm as President Obama and Senate Democrats tried to panic them over the political cliff.
But sequestration was yesterday, and the Continuing Resolution is today, and congressional Republicans need to recognize the danger they are in, and how to break free of the Obama Blame Game.
For four years, the United States has operated without an official budget as Senate Democrats have refused to pass the necessary legislation. During this time, congressional Republicans have agreed to fund the government under continuing resolutions rather than shut down the government. This has allowed the Obama administration to spend essentially without restraint or accountability.
It also played into the president's political strategy by putting Republicans in the position of being held responsible for any threatened shutdowns of government operations if they failed to go along with his "no budget" method of operation. Each time Republicans agree to a new CR, it reduced their ability to protest future CRs, as well as any budget that failed to contain some form of spending control. Slowly but surely, the president has been stripping Republicans of their political legitimacy with the ultimate goal of rendering them impotent to fulfill their constitutional responsibility of authorizing the nation's expenditures. If the president is successful, the vesting of the constitutionally mandated responsibility for controlling the nation's expenditures in the House of Representatives will disappear, and the Executive Branch will assume effective control of both how, and how much, is spent by the federal government, essentially ending the American Experiment with a government of divided powers.
The president and Senate Democrats would like nothing better than to play out the clock with meaningless negotiations until the current CR expires, and then refocus blame on Republicans for threatening another government shutdown. The president's price for avoiding the blame would be an increase in tax rates across broad sections of the economy, just as he tried to do in the sequestration fight.
So how should Republicans respond to this existential threat to their constitutional authority?
First, Republicans need to recognize that bipartisan negotiations are worthless, and will only result in their political defeat. Second, they must remove themselves from the position President Obama has forged for them. Third, they must seize and control the budget initiative.
The first step in the Republican response should be to stop allowing the president and Senate Democrats to define their position. Instead, they need to announce loudly and across the full spectrum of media, that congressional Republicans will no longer participate in the subversion of their Constitutional responsibility by participating any further spending or authorization bills until the Senate has passed the necessary budget legislation. If the Senate before the current CR expires has not produced such legislation, congressional Republicans will not force a shutdown of the government, but will instead agree to an additional 60-day CR that is 10% less than the current CR. Further, as the chief executive, it will be the sole responsibility of the president to determine where necessary reductions in spending will occur in order to meet the funding levels provided.
If Congressional Democrats refuse to participate in the reauthorization of such a reduced CR, then it will be they, and they alone, who have shut down the federal government.
Congressional Republicans then need to make clear that, if a budget isn't passed by the end of that CR, the next CR will be authorized to keep essential government services running, but the total amount will be 10% less than the one just passed.
Republicans must make clear that until a budget is passed, congressional Republicans will not shut down the essential operations of government, but each additional CR will be 10% less than the one immediately prior, and it will be the responsibility of the president to make whatever accommodations, in his role as the chief executive, are necessary to meet the levels of spending duly authorized by the United States Congress in fulfillment of their constitutionally mandated responsibility under Article I, Section 7, Clause I.
Such an approach has many benefits for congressional Republicans. If Senate Democrats respond by passing a budget, Republicans can claim credit for finally forcing the opposition to do their job.
If the Senate refuses to pass the requisite budget legislation, but agrees to the reduced CR, Republicans can take credit for refusing to shut down the government, and reauthorizing a short term CR that takes into account the fiscal plight of the nation. If the reduced CR goes into effect, the president is now placed in the position of having to defend the cuts that he, and he alone, will be making in allocating the approved funds.
If the Senate refuses to pass their budget, and congressional Democrats refuse to authorize the reduced CR, then Republicans have a golden opportunity to showcase the ideological fanaticism of their opponents as demonstrated by their willingness to shut down the entire federal government, starving women and children, rather than accept any form of spending reductions in our nation's hour of need.
This approach has an additional, subtle advantage. If the opponents accept the offered settlement, namely passing their budget, Republicans can reposition themselves as supporting and enforcing the Constitution, and forcing those who would subvert it to comply. If opponents resist, Republicans can cast their intransigence as being against the United States Constitution, and not against Republicans.
Congressional Republicans have an opportunity to seize the political initiative. Failing to do so may be the most dangerous thing they could do.