Jim Capretta offers some outstanding advice in National Review about the upcoming budget battles. He writes, "Republicans need to convince voters, especially independents, that their plan is one of sensible, pragmatic stewardship of the taxpayers’ money, and that the president and his allies in Congress instead are intent on continuing their reckless spending binge."
Republicans can achieve this result, Capretta writes, by following this 3-part advice: 1.) Show a firm commitment to keeping the government in operation, by extending the continuing resolution (perhaps at levels below current allocations) – under which the government is currently operating in the wake of the Democrats' refusal to pass a budget last year -- all the way through the 2011 fiscal year; 2.) show a firm commitment to cutting spending, through a far-reaching rescissions package that would freeze federal hiring and salaries, rescind earmark spending, cancel remaining "stimulus" spending, defund NPR, and terminate other low-value programs and agencies; 3. make the 2012 House budget – which will take shape this spring under the very capable leadership of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) – the centerpiece in the fight to impose fiscal restraint and re-limit government.
Capretta writes, "The first priority for the new House majority must be to reestablish Republicans’ spending-restraint credentials." However, "At the same time, they must go into the budget battles aware that some tactics are more dangerous politically than others." That is, the best time for Republicans to wage a budget battle is over the 2012 budget, with Ryan at the helm.
Capretta says, "Ryan is likely to push his colleagues to be bold in what they propose. That means repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a reformed Medicare and other measures that promote cost-conscious consumers and a functioning marketplace. It means embracing Social Security reforms that promote personal savings, longer working lives, and less reliance by high-wage workers on government pensions....[T]here’s never been a better time to offer such ideas, since the president’s own debt commission has recently recommended Social Security and health-care-entitlement cuts."
Capretta adds that Republicans should work with the minority of Democrats who share the GOP's concerns about out-of-control spending: "The best outcome for Republicans would be a strong bipartisan coalition in support of a significant spending-cut package, with opposition coming only from the most entrenched liberals in Washington, one of whom is Barack Obama." It follows that if a government shutdown must occur, it should result from President Obama's refusal to accept anything like the spending cuts and real reforms that pass the House.
The approach that Capretta advocates, in which Republicans pick the time and circumstances of the fight, rather than letting the Obama administration do so, and in which they exercise bold yet prudent leadership – neither timid nor rash – can lead our country in the right direction. Moreover, Ryan vs. Obama has played out well before (see here and here), and it can play out well again – in the budgetary battle and perhaps beyond.