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December 12, 2013 9:43 AM Fruits of the Budget Deal

By Ed Kilgore

It’s looking more and more like the Murray-Ryan budget deal is going to get through the House today, in part because most if not all Democrats will vote for it, more than making up for conservative defections. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities president Robert Greenstein speaks for most Democrats in adjudging the deal a whole lot better than the status quo:

The agreement meets five important criteria. First, it provides equal relief from sequestration for non-defense and defense programs, wisely rejecting calls to provide relief only or primarily for defense. Second, it offsets the cost of sequestration relief without imposing cuts in key mandatory programs that would harm vulnerable children, seniors, people with disabilities, or others. Third, while the agreement does not close a single tax loophole, it does secure some of its offsets from fees and other measures that increase federal revenues, rejecting the position that sequestration cuts must be replaced entirely by cuts in other domestic programs. Fourth, it modestly promotes economic growth by somewhat easing the sequestration cuts in the near term while the economy remains weak and spreading out the offsets over a 10-year period. Fifth, it gives appropriators an opportunity to set funding priorities for 2014 and 2015, rather than mechanically extending last year’s funding levels through a continuing resolution.

At the same time, Greenstein deplored the absence of any relief measures for those losing UI benefits at year’s end, and asked for simultaneous action on that front, which of course Republicans will not allow.

So it’s a mixed bag with one big short-term moral and economic demerit and no real long-range impact, right? Well, maybe, but TNR’s Noam Scheiber thinks it will actually feed the internal problems of the GOP in a way that could cause problems between now and 2014. For one thing, defund-Obamacare types aren’t just going to say “okay” and go away:

“This agreement makes sure that we don’t have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure we don’t have another government shutdown scenario in October,” Ryan announced shortly after hammering out the deal. “It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis.” The first part of that quote is probably right: the deal should take care of the federal budget for the next two years. But the second part—an end to this business of senselessly manufacturing crises—is a huge leap of faith.
Just consider the bellyaching the deal has already inspired. It goes without saying that the usual assortment of activists and lunatics—Heritage Action, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity—are all condemning the deal in terms befitting a land invasion by some foreign menace (or, you know, Cuba). So is the standard allotment of House conservatives. Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp told Politico that the deal “slides right in the face of what we agreed to 11 months ago—that we were never going to give up the sequester.” Meanwhile, conservative wannabes see an opportunity to establish their cred, as when Marco Rubio mournfully observed that the deal, which implicates less than a percentage point of the federal budget, would “make it harder for Americans to achieve the American dream.” So tragic….
[D]erailing the deal isn’t really the point, and a failure to derail it wouldn’t really be a setbackfor conservatives. If you look back over the last few years, conservatives have exercised their influence by collecting grievances when they lose and then leveraging them into internal victories when the timing is more favorable….
This time around, conservatives are making their litany of grievances are well-known, presumably so they can parlay them into another crazy confrontation down the road. In addition to all the pro forma denunciations by the jihadis at Heritage and Koch Inc., conservatives immediately circulated a memo on Capitol Hill cataloguing the deal’s many heresies, including “the deficit increases under the Ryan/Murray plan for at least the next 3 years” and “savings during the BCA period come predominately from fee/revenue increases rather than lower spending. So, it … enables a larger government.” What are the chances these points get made in a House GOP caucus meeting some time in January or February, not long before the debt ceiling must be raised again? What are the chances that, when the points are raised, conservatives will agitate for another showdown with Obama? I’d say pretty high.

Scheiber’s hypothesis defies the rapidly emerging CW that this whole deal was some sort of master-stroke by Paul Ryan timed perfectly to take advantage of GOP buyer’s remorse over the recent government shutdown. I don’t know if he’s exactly right, but there’s no question the people on the Right this deal was designed to put to sleep for the next element months aren’t going to make it til morning without acting out. And at some point Ryan himself is going to pay a price for finally cosponsoring a bipartisan agreement instead of walking away at the last minute.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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