I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal — rollback, in Cold War parlance — is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.
Lincoln is reputed to have said: I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky. I don’t know whether conservatives have God on their side (I keep getting sent to His voice mail), but I do know that they don’t have Kentucky — they don’t have the Senate, they don’t have the White House. And under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone. Today’s resurgent conservatism, with its fidelity to constitutionalism, should be particularly attuned to this constraint, imposed as it is by a system of deliberately separated — and mutually limiting — powers.
Given this reality, trying to force the issue — turn a blocking minority into a governing authority — is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.
Consider the Boehner Plan for debt reduction. The Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm calls it “regrettably insufficient.” Of course it is. That’s what happens when you control only half a branch. But the plan’s achievements are significant. It is all cuts, no taxes. It establishes the precedent that debt-ceiling increases must be accompanied by equal spending cuts. And it provides half a year to both negotiate more fundamental reform (tax and entitlement) and keep the issue of debt reduction constantly in the public eye.
I am somewhat biased about the Boehner Plan because for weeks I’ve been arguing (in this column and elsewhere) for precisely such a solution: a two-stage debt-ceiling hike consisting of a half-year extension with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts, followed by intensive negotiations on entitlement and tax reform. It’s clean. It’s understandable.It’s veto-proof. (Obama won’t dare.) The Republican House should have passed it weeks ago.
But they didn’t. And so, here we are. And no, the other side does not come to this debate with clean hands, but that shouldn’t make anyone feel better.