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GOP leaders find themselves in a budget bind of their own making

GOP leaders made budget vows they couldn’t keep, adopting a “we’ll figure it out later” posture. Now, "later" is approaching, and Republicans have no plan.


The Washington Post published a good profile over the weekend on a congressional staffer most Americans have probably never heard of. His name is Dan Meyer, he’s House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff, and as the Post put it, “no other person — save McCarthy — is expected to play a more pivotal role this year in trying to steer House Republicans through a series of potentially explosive conflicts.”

Of particular interest in the piece was Meyer’s concerns about rank-and-file House Republican members making demands on spending “that will prove difficult, if not impossible, for McCarthy to reconcile.” From the article:

The party’s demands for spending cuts have also become increasingly outlandish. On a recent private phone call with a longtime colleague after McCarthy was elected speaker, Meyer marveled at the seeming absurdity of his position. As Meyer told his friend, McCarthy is in a nearly impossible bind, having vowed to advance a budget proposal that eradicates the deficit in a decade without touching Medicare and Social Security or increasing taxes.

None of this should surprise anyone. McCarthy is not a congressional rookie, and he must’ve understood that he was making promises that he couldn’t possibly keep: Balancing the federal budget in a decade without raising taxes on anyone, and without touching social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare, would require GOP lawmakers to propose brutally ridiculous cuts to practically every other part of the federal budget.

As Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told The New York Times, “If you say that you’re going to eliminate the deficit by the end of the decade, but you say you’re not going to touch Social Security, you’re not going to touch Medicare, you’re not going to touch defense — that means you have to cut 100 percent of everything that’s left. So I welcome this debate. Math is on our side.”

McCarthy knew this. He nevertheless adopted a “we’ll figure it out later” posture with his own members.

Now, “later” is quickly approaching, and the Times reports that conservative House Republicans are moving forward with a budget plan that would “make deep cuts to health care, food assistance and housing programs for poor Americans in their drive to balance the federal budget.”

What’s wrong with that? For one thing, it would impose dramatic hardships on millions of struggling families, even as the GOP pushes for more tax breaks for the wealthy. For another, it would inevitably be rejected by the Democratic White House and Democratic-led Senate, and such an approach might not even be able to pass the GOP-led House.

On the surface, House Republicans' critics might be tempted to enjoy all of this. GOP leaders made vows they couldn’t keep; they’re struggling to come up with a plan of their own; and much of the party supports a hyper-regressive blueprint that will never become law. A degree of schadenfreude among Democrats might seem understandable.

But just below the surface, there’s a larger problem: The more the far-right Republican majority in the House finds itself in a bind of its making, the more likely it is that we’ll see a default and government shutdowns later this year.