Here is my Reuters Breakingviews columntorial (half column, half editorial) on the agenda from House Republicans:
America’s so-called “party of no” has finally revealed what it will say “yes” to. Yet a new Republican manifesto offers little more than undoing President Barack Obama’s reforms to date, with vague talk of balanced budgets. Maybe that’s smart politics. But it’s a missed opportunity.
If you’re winning late in the game, it is reckless to pull the goalie and put him on the attack. So with congressional midterm elections just weeks away and polls going the Republicans’ way, the cautious nature of the ideas in the 21-page document from the party’s House leaders is perhaps unsurprising. As the saying goes, if you want to do policy, you have to first do politics. And the main objective of the GOP’s “Pledge to America” is to counter Democratic claims that Republicans are mere obstructionists.
The document does contain a smattering of worthwhile items, particularly on restraining government spending. Republicans want to cut non-defense spending, excluding mandatory social insurance spending, to where it was in 2008. That would save about $100 billion a year. Over ten years, adjusted for inflation, that would only knock off 10 percent or so from the $9.8 trillion in additional debt the United States will accumulate over that period, by Congressional Budget Office estimates. But it’s a start, as is the idea of hard caps on discretionary spending, though specifics are unfortunately lacking. And freezing the hiring of new federal workers would set a good austerity example for state and local governments.
But it’s difficult to take seriously any policy agenda that doesn’t lay out at least a broad plan for much deeper fiscal reform. Paul Ryan, the Republican who would head the House budget committee if the GOP retakes the lower chamber, has a detailed roadmap for restructuring entitlements. But party leaders chose to ignore it. And it’s odd that Republican leaders seem to want to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts even if it means keeping in place a clunky code than penalizes savings and rewards debt.
Sure, the Republicans don’t want to give Democrats fodder for negative advertising. But this manifesto could have begun making the public case for the GOP’s vision of the big budgetary changes America needs. That didn’t happen. America’s long-term economic and fiscal woes call for bolder leadership.