From The Wall Street Journal:
This is getting to be a habit. President Obama ferociously resists tax cuts, trade agreements and spending cuts—right up to the moment he strikes a deal with Republicans and hails the tax cuts, trade agreements and spending cuts as his idea. What a difference an election makes.
This is the larger political meaning of Friday's last minute budget deal for fiscal 2011 that averted a government shutdown. Mr. Obama has now agreed to a pair of tax cut and spending deals that repudiate his core economic philosophy and his agenda of the last two years—and has then hailed both as great achievements. Republicans in Washington have reversed the nation's fiscal debate and are slowly repairing the harm done since the Nancy Pelosi Congress began to set the direction of government in 2007.
Yes, we know, $39 billion in spending cuts for 2011 is less than the $61 billion passed by the House and shrinks the overall federal budget by only a little more than 1%. The compromise also doesn't repeal ObamaCare, kill the EPA's anticarbon rules, defund Planned Parenthood, reform the entitlement state, or part the Red Sea.
On the other hand, the Obama-Pelosi Leviathan wasn't built in a day, and it won't be cut down to size in one budget. Especially not in a fiscal year that only has six months left and with Democrats running the Senate and White House. Friday's deal cuts more spending in any single year than we can remember, $78 billion more than President Obama first proposed. Domestic discretionary spending grew by 6% in 2008, 11% in 2009 and 14% in 2010, but this year will fall by 4%. That's no small reversal.
The budget does this while holding the line against defense cuts that Democrats wanted and restoring the school voucher program for Washington, D.C. for thousands of poor children. Tom DeLay—the talk radio hero when he ran the House—never passed a budget close to this good.
The political gains are also considerable. When Mr. Obama introduced his 2012 budget in February, he proposed more spending on his priorities in return for essentially no cuts. Two months later, the debate is entirely about how much spending to cut and which part of government to reform. Democrats were forced to play defense nearly across the board, obliged to defend programs (National Public Radio) that were once thought to be untouchable shrines of modern liberalism.
Republicans also showed they are able to make the compromises required to govern. We realize that "governing" can often be an excuse for incumbent self-interest. But this early show of political maturity will demonstrate to independents that the freshmen and tea party Republicans they elected in November aren't the yahoos of media lore. A government shutdown over a spending difference of $7 billion and some policy riders would have made the GOP look reckless for little return.
Now the battle moves to the debt ceiling increase and Paul Ryan's new 2012 budget later this year, and there are lessons from this fight to keep in mind. One is to focus on spending and budget issues, not extraneous policy fights. Republicans have the advantage when they are talking about the overall level of spending and ways to control it. They lose that edge when the debate veers off into a battle over social issues.
We certainly agree that, amid a $1.5 trillion deficit, taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood is preposterous. Let George Soros or Peter Lewis spend their private fortunes to support the group's abortion counseling. But Mr. Boehner was wise to drop the provision on Friday rather than let Mr. Obama portray a shutdown as a fight over abortion rights. If Republicans want to win this fight in the coming months, they need to convince voters that Planned Parenthood funding is a low fiscal priority, not make it seem as if they want to use the budget to stage a cultural brawl.
This point is especially crucial in the looming showdown over increasing the debt limit. Mr. Obama will marshal a parade of Wall Street and Federal Reserve worthies predicting Armageddon if the debt limit isn't raised as early as mid-May. Republicans will play into his hands of they seek to load up any debt limit increase with policies unrelated to spending and debt reduction.
The best advice we've heard is from former Senator Phil Gramm, who says Republicans should agree that families and nations should always honor their debts. But in doing so they should also make sure they won't pile up new debt. For a family, that means cutting up the credit cards. For Congress, it means passing budget reforms that impose hard and enforceable limits on new spending and debt.
We are not talking here about that hardy perennial, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, that would easily become a lever for Democrats to push for higher taxes. Far better would be statutory limits on spending increases and debt as a share of GDP, sequesters that automatically cut spending if Congress exceeds those limits, supermajority rules for replacing those limits, and revisions of the budget baseline so that each year's budget begins at last year's spending levels, not with automatic increases.
This is the kind of reform the public will understand is directly related to the debt limit, and one that Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama will find hard to oppose. Republicans should waste no time starting to explain their debt-limit terms, so voters also understand the GOP isn't toying with default as a political ploy.
One of the ironies of Friday's budget deal is that it is being criticized both by Ms. Pelosi and some conservative Republicans. We can understand Ms. Pelosi's angst. But conservatives are misguided if they think they could have done much better than Mr. Boehner, or that a shutdown would have helped their cause. Republicans need to stay united for the bigger fights to come this year, and for now they and the tea party can take credit for spending cuts that even Mr. Obama feels politically obliged to sell as historic.