We had the opportunity last night to listen to remarks by Representative Steve Scalise (LA-1), Chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, and to ask a few questions afterwards.
Scalise addressed an audience made up of the largely skeptical leaders of a number of national conservative organizations. These long-time conservative leaders were skeptical not so much of Scalise, who has an impeccable conservative voting record and a reputation for sticking to his principles, as they were of his pitch that conservatives should “bank a win” on the sequester.
In Congressman Scalise’s telling, the sequester is a “win” and that conservatives should concentrate on making the number stick to ensure that spending does not creep back up while Congress assesses what kind of “flexibility” it might grant the executive branch to deal with any disruption in government services the sequester causes.
In short – to use our words not Scalise’s – what we have is the fiscal equivalent of baseball legend Tony LaRussa’s “winning ugly” Chicago White Sox, who may not have played classic-style baseball, but did win the AL West division title for the first time in a long time (in 1983) and made LaRussa Manager of the Year in the process.
Except the budget “cuts” in the sequester aren’t really of division title caliber, let alone the World Series win Republicans need to restore their brand as the Party of fiscal conservatism.
They are “more of a first down really,” to mix our sports metaphors, as Steve Scalise said in response to questions from budget skeptics in the room,
First down, first step, small win; we take the point that federal spending with the sequester will be less than federal spending without the sequester, and for that conservative Republicans on the House side of Capitol Hill – especially Scalise and his fellow members of the RSC – should get some credit.
However, when you look at the size of the federal budget – and the deficit – a mere 2.4% reduction in total federal government spending hardly qualifies as a “first down” even. It is more like picking-up a couple of yards on first down, putting the prospect of the next first down in sight.
What’s worse, by Scalise’s own admission, the greatest threat to “banking the win” on sequestration isn’t Obama or the Democrats on Capitol Hill. It is squirrely Republicans, particularly on the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, who want to protect Pentagon spending.
No doubt Steve Scalise is sincere about cutting spending and his pitch that the RSC was leading and pushing the establishment Republican House leadership to stick to conservative principles on spending and the sequestration was good news -- but we will close with our skepticism intact and our own sports analogy.
For House Republicans, and maybe even the national Republican Party, they are one run behind in the last game of the World Series. It is the bottom of the ninth inning, they have two outs, and, with an intentional walk rather than any skilled play on their part, sequestration just put a man on base.
Whether House Republicans advance the runner and score at least two runs to win the game, and the Series, depends entirely on how closely they hew to conservative principles. But Speaker John Boehner ain’t Tony LaRussa, and with establishment Republicans (like Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers and Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon) in the line-up, to have a prayer of winning -- even of winning ugly -- Republicans must have some clutch hitting by Steve Scalise and the conservatives of the RSC.