Williamsburg Accord: The GOP Pledge to Generate Crises to Get Their Way
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
I think one of the major misunderstandings (willful, in many cases) of this budget mess is that it's about Republicans just running around willy-nilly screaming "nonononono" like toddlers having a temper tantrum. I know it looks that way, but that's not what's happening. This is a strategy. And it's one they've even written down.
Jonathan Chait wrote about this in a widely read piece yesterday in which he explains what they've been up to:
In January, demoralized House Republicans retreated to Williamsburg, Virginia, to plot out their legislative strategy for President Obama’s second term. Conservatives were angry that their leaders had been unable to stop the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on high incomes, and sought assurances from their leaders that no further compromises would be forthcoming. The agreement that followed, which Republicans called “The Williamsburg Accord,” received obsessive coverage in the conservative media but scant attention in the mainstream press. (The phrase “Williamsburg Accord” has appeared once in the Washington Post and not at all in the New York Times.) But the decision House Republicans made in January has set the party on the course it has followed since.
If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.
And certain institutional players got in on the act and put the heat on MOC's big time. Here's a letter from Heritage action to the GOP caucus from last May:
In the coming months, you will face tremendous pressure to accept a deal to raise our nation’s debt ceiling. Conservatives around the country will insist the debt ceiling not be raised unless our nation gets on a path to a balanced budget within 10 years and stays balanced. This is not an arbitrary marker; rather, it is the marker laid out by the entire House Republican Conference in what has become known as the Williamsburg Accord.
Conservatives cannot enter into the debt ceiling debate without understanding the promise of the Williamsburg Accord.
On January 18, four current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee announced an agreement to re-sequence the 2013 fiscal fights. In exchange for holding the line on the sequester and producing a budget that balanced in ten years, conservatives agreed to postpone the debt ceiling debate for several months. In turn, the debate on the debt ceiling would revolve around enacting the policies that put the federal budget on the path to 10-year balance.
A few days later, Speaker Boehner declared, “It’s time for us to come to a plan that will in fact balance the budget over the next 10 years.” He said it was the GOP’s “commitment to the American people.”
As the proverbial ink dried on the Williamsburg Accord, the House Republican Conference marched in unison. Lawmakers focused on laying the groundwork to enact the policies necessary to achieve a 10-year balance, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and attach them to any future increases in the debt ceiling.
At the same time, the National Republican Congressional Committee quietly poll-tested the message in key districts. Balancing the budget was a winning political argument in swing districts. The NRCC poll found that 45 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans thought balancing the federal budget would “significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.”
Good policy is good politics, and we know from recent history a coherent, principled message on the debt ceiling can shift public opinion. Before landing on the Budget Control Act in August 2011, Republicans consistently said America had a spending problem and spending reductions must accompany any increase in the debt ceiling.
Not surprisingly, the accepted narrative of that showdown is wrong. Many forget Republicans were winning the generic congressional vote the entire month of July. President Obama’s disapproval rating stood at 52% by the end of August. In September, Mitt Romney was leading in head-to-head polling.
The path to balance is the path to victory.
Conservatives should not raise our nation’s statutory debt limit unless Congress passes and the President signs into law real reforms and immediate spending reductions that place America on a path to balance within 10 years without raising taxes and keeping the budget in balance.
What they were talking about was Paul Ryan's budget. And guess what? They got it: