Budget Buyer’s Remorse

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BY STEPHEN MOORE – The House Whip team worked overtime last week to keep the defections on the continuing resolution for 2011 down to 59. It could have been a lot worse.


What was most surprising is that only 28 of the Republican freshmen voted against a budget that promised $38 billion in cuts but delivers at most half that amount. More than a handful of House Republicans have confessed to me in recent days that they “held my nose” and voted for the budget resolution. They didn’t feel good about themselves in the morning and some are already grumbling that they probably should have voted no. It’s called budgetary buyer’s remorse and expect the ranks in that camp to climb over time.

Most conservative and tea party groups turned against the budget deal in the day or so before the vote when the accounting gimmicks were exposed. “We’d vote ‘no,’ even if we understand the impulse to move on to more important matters and to avoid a leap into the dark that might include a politically damaging shutdown,” wrote National Review’s editors. “The episode is strike one against the speakership of John Boehner.” Conservative activist Richard Viguerie said that this was an occasion of the Speaker’s “failed leadership.” Some tea party groups trashed the compromise and phony cuts as “a sell out.” Freshman Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.) fumed that the exposure at the last minute of fictitious cuts was a big turnoff because: “I like people to be upfront with me. Surprises are for birthdays.”

One tactic that the Republican leadership’s office advertised the day of the vote was that these were real spending cuts using “budget authority,” if not in real outlays. The Speaker’s office put out a double-speak alert to all House Republican members that announced: “The final agreement cuts nearly $40 billion in budget authority — taking away the Administration’s license to spend that money — which will result in deficit savings of $315 billion over the next decade.” Of course, outlays are the only meaningful measure of what government actually spends, and cutting outlays is the only way to cut the deficit. This is the same budgetary hocus pocus that Republicans swore off when they were campaigning for winning back the House majority.

Most of the freshman whom I’ve talked to were resolute that their votes won’t be nearly so easy captured in the next spending fight, which is over the 2012 budget. With Congress back home this week for Easter break, they are likely to hear from voters how much this deal was detested.
Stephen Moore is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal