David Frum

01.15.13

2013: Not the Year for a Budget Showdown

MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images ()

I welcome almost any argument that urges Republicans not to force a default on the obligations of the United States. Yet this piece by Ed Morrissey seems to me very poor advice.

By contrast, a government shutdown — or at least the threat of one — makes more sense. For one thing, it actually addresses the problem of government spending by refusing to allocate any more funding, rather than refusing to authorize borrowing for spending already approved. The current continuing resolution runs out on March 27, at which point most functions of the federal government have to stop without approved funding from Congress. John Boehner promised his caucus that he would insist on a return to normal order in the budget process; this would be a perfect time to demand a budget from the Senate instead of getting caught up in White House negotiations intended to bypass the normal budget process yet again. A refusal by Harry Reid would give House Republicans an opportunity to pass a budget without the Senate — and then insist that it's Reid who shut down the government by violating the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

I agree with Ed that the United States must begin substantial budget cuts.

But two caveats: timing and legitimacy.

The time to begin the budget cuts is after the United States resumes full employment and normal economic growth, not before.

And the means to do so is via the normal budget process, after a successful election. Forcing spending cuts by shutting down government services is not only a breach of the "rules of the game," it is also tactically reckless. The Republican party made a case for a vision of government in November. That case was rejected, and painfully. A Democratic president was elected. A Democratic Senate was returned. And while the Republicans held the House, they lost seats and received fewer total votes. This is not a mandate for anything big and bold. This is the time for defensive play, for rethinking, rebuilding and retooling.

I esteem Ed Morrissey highly. I think he is one of the most practical minded of the militant wing of the GOP. But a party achieves nothing by boldly and bravely marching off a well-marked cliff.

The hour for bold spending reforms will come. This isn't it.