This Congress was sent to Washington with a simple mandate from the American people: cut federal spending and get government under control. Friday night’s budget compromise to avert a government shutdown embraced these principles, but also left plenty of work to be done. Congress has finally started cutting spending instead of running up the tab on future generations, and we hope the budget deal changed the culture of Washington. No longer should budgets be railroaded through Washington that increase spending and grow government. From here on out, the question should be: What can be cut?
One good thing to have come out of this process is that the debate has clearly shifted. Though the details of the compromise remain murky, what’s clear is that the national mood is for cutting, and all the reformist ideas are coming from one side only. We’ll see what President Obama has to say about reforming entitlements when he addresses the nation on Wednesday. But so far, Congressional Democrats have been unwilling to make serious efforts toward cutting spending or consider much needed reforms to an entitlements regime that has grown out of all proportions, consumes the lion’s share of our federal budget and will ultimately consign America to second-class status. They refused all but the most minuscule reductions in the 2011 budget, and their response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wi.) ground-breaking 2012 budget has been demagoguery.
The liberal approach to the debate over the 2011 budget spoke volumes. Just last week, as a partial government shutdown loomed, liberal leaders pulled out every dirty trick in the book to protect their culture of spending. Liberal Members of Congress foolishly said Republicans were trying to “kill women” and end cancer screenings. The pitch of their tirade showed how desperate they were to maintain the status quo spending environment. It didn’t work, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) was in the end able to deliver a compromise deal that amounted to the largest spending cut in history.
In what we can only hope is a harbinger of things to come, labor unions’ power to protect the status quo was diminished as Speaker Boehner fought to allow inner-city children to safely receive a quality education. Restoring the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program was a great victory for parents in and outside of Washington who have all too often seen their needs fall second to the financial interests of union bosses. It also set the debate on future education funding to be measured in results, not federal dollars spent.
After taking care of this unfinished business from last year – for let’s not forget that then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) failed to pass a budget in 2010 – Speaker Boehner must now move on to much bigger battles over raising the debt limit and the 2012 budget.
In reality, even one of the biggest spending cuts in history is merely a drop in the bucket. A handful of days of deficit spending. A rounding error. But this should merely demonstrate how much there is left to accomplish. If the battle over such modest cuts can elicit the venom we saw from liberals this past week – imagine what is in store as we tackle the 2012 budget and the debt ceiling.
The 2012 budget debate will begin now. We cannot allow the same avoidance of responsibility to put us back into this situation next year. There will be important opportunities to cut spending and borrowing deeply and comprehensively, including real entitlement reform and limiting the size and scope of government. In this debate, liberals will look for these cuts to be brokered on the backs of our military. We must better resist those mistaken efforts.
America is still on a dangerous fiscal path. A cut of $38.5 billion will not change that. A larger one of $61 billion would not have changed that. Even one of $100 billion would not have changed that. The moral victories of the past are now merely small steps on the road to true Washington reform. The future fights over entitlement and budget reform will need to be measured in the trillions, not billions. And that debate begins today.