Republicans Will Benefit From Real Budget Debate With Democrats

Despite the setback of 2012, Republican policy victories can still come, even if they seem more process-oriented.

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There once was a time when Republicans would argue for a grand and sweeping strategy to achieve conservative political and policy goals. The plan was to hunker down, get a clean sweep of both Houses of Congress, elect a Republican President, and have that president sign Republican legislation. As Grover Norquist told the audience at CPAC in February of 2012:

All we have to do is replace Obama. ...  We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. ... We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

[ Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Romney's loss has prevented this strategy from being implemented and there have been very real consequences for Republicans. For example: In recent the recent fiscal cliff deal, taxes went up on upper-income individuals. Taxes are set to get even higher once the taxes from Obamacare start. Obamacare is also being accepted law of the land. As a sign of how far Obamacare's reach is extending, even the conservative Jan Brewer of Arizona has agreed that her state will accept Obamacare's Medicaid funding.

Elections have consequences but just because Republicans lost in 2012 does not mean they have to lose every fight. Going forward, Republican "wins" may not look grand and dramatic but they can still be consequential.

To give one example, Republicans even gained a victory in the resolution to the fiscal cliff. The same deal that resulted in higher taxes for some also made 82 percent of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. In the future, this is going to make it harder to raise income taxes without outside circumstances forcing a change.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

It is also good news for Republicans (and the country at large) that Senate Democrats are now likely to propose their own budget for the first time in years. This is allows for something we have not seen for a while: a normal budget process. As economist Keith Hennessey writes, doing so will add great clarity to the current fiscal debate:

By forcing/encouraging/persuading Senate Democrats to do a budget resolution, this debt limit bill levels the playing field for future fiscal policy debates. House Republicans who have had to defend their proposed spending cuts will now be able to contrast those at-times painful policy choices with whatever alternatives Senate Democrats propose. This will clarify the fiscal policy choices and make the debate one that is simultaneously both more honest and less unfair to spending cutters.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

It is not the same as passing their preferred budget, but being able to engage Democrats in a budget process is going to improve the debate in Washington and give Republicans an opportunity to give say exactly which parts of the Democratic budget require more taxes or can't work. Engaging in debate over the budget during an actual budgeting process is also the way fiscal policy should be done, as opposed to high stakes negotiations over sequesters, fiscal cliffs, and debt ceilings.

Despite the setback of 2012, Republican policy victories can still come, even if they seem more process-oriented. Very often, those are the victories that are more likely to make a lasting impact.