The Republican faithful may be up in arms about a budget deal championed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that passed the Senate Wednesday, but they should be grateful. The deal is a political masterstroke that will set up the GOP for victory next November. It also shows that Ryan is smarter and more strategic than many of his fellow conservatives.
In an ideal world, conservatives would fight to the end to cut government regulations in half, shutter cabinet departments, and reduce taxes significantly. But they will not be able to make a dent in any of those priorities if they don’t have the numbers in Congress.
With that background, it therefore is easy to understand why Ryan and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blessed this less than ideal agreement. Right now the only way Republicans are going to gain a majority in the Senate and hold the House in the midterms is to keep an unflinching focus on the 2014 “Golden Goose:” Obamacare. Side debates over the budget, threats of a shutdown, and brinksmanship on the debt ceiling are distractions from the most disastrous overhaul of government policy since LBJ’s Great Society. The budget deal crafted by Ryan helps to put those distractions aside for the greater good.
For long-term success, Republicans have to think short term. They need in effect to keep the car between the two white lines at all times, firing rhetorical missiles at a program that is already forcing millions of Americans to lose their insurance and their doctors. Obama’s numbers are tanking nationally and millennials, a key part of the Obama coalition, are beginning to break up with their first political crush. Risking another government shutdown would be akin to veering off into a ditch and leaving the GOP a smoldering wreck on the side of the road. As for the debt ceiling – Republicans have more leeway here, but they will not be able to extract the kind of concessions that would pacify the base.
This sort of blatant political maneuvering is the kind of thing that makes many people sick about Washington. Unfortunately, it is also our reality, at least for now. The sad truth is that in an era when the Obama White House will delay enacting a host of regulations to secure votes at the ballot box, then continually lie about the merits of ObamaCare after the election, and then send a tracker from an offshoot organization to a funeral to keep tabs on a GOP rising star, we have to recognize that today’s politics is best understood as nothing short of a knife fight in a phone booth. At every turn, ruthless politics is trumping sound policy. Thus Republicans need to be just as cold-blooded in their calculations and callous in their actions. That is why Ryan and Boehner and the GOP majority are on the right track, at least for now.
O'Connell is a Republican strategist and chairman of the Civic Forum PAC.