The current appropriations bill — the Continuing Resolution — funding the federal government is set to expire Friday. If it does, it would cause a shutdown of some portions of the government. With the stakes so high, congressional Republicans ought to, as Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., recently told a group in Newport Beach, "pick a fight."
Nibbling around the edges will not lead to a responsible, balanced budget nor will it make a dent in the ballooning deficit.
In February the House passed the current Continuing Resolution to avoid a government shutdown. Now, Republicans in the House are demanding more cuts to pass an actual fiscal 2011 budget. The magic number being floated in Washington is $61 billion. Currently the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have agreed to $33 billion in cuts. Republicans who say that figure is too low are right.
The deficit projected for this year is $1.5 trillion. Even with the miniscule $61 billion in cuts, the budget is far from balanced. And those numbers do not take into account the $14 trillion national debt. The $61 billion in cuts demanded by Republicans is modest and shortsighted.
Republicans are in a difficult spot, though. Many remember the political loss they endured at the hands of the Clinton administration because of the 1995 government shutdown, and they do not want to duplicate that political blunder. But Americans today are more attuned to the more massive budgetary problems facing the nation than they were in 1995. Also, Republicans in Congress must make significant progress on the budget or else suffer a backlash from Tea Party voters who helped usher them into office.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has begun trying to drive a wedge between Republicans and the Tea Party. In a statement released on his website he said the GOP "has to decide whether it will do what the Tea Party wants it to do, or do what the country needs it to do."
If House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, kowtow to Democratic threats, not only will they have to answer to Tea Party voters but they will also make a political blunder tantamount to the party's stumble in 1995. In the context of a huge fiscal crisis, members of Congress must act decisively and aggressively to trim deficits. President Barack Obama invited Boehner, Reid and others to the White House to discuss ways to complete a deal; Republicans need to stay the course.