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Williamsburg Accord: The GOP Pledge to Generate Crises to Get Their Way

Why are Republicans careening toward a potential federal government shutdown? This is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy.

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The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a continuing resolution, or CR—a temporary funding measure meant to keep the government operating—that would set the relevant funding levels at an annualized total of $986 billion. That’s about $70 billion less than what the Senate endorsed as part of its comprehensive budget plan back in April. But that actually understates the extent of the compromise.

When President Barack Obama first took office in 2009, his budget proposed $1.203 trillion in discretionary spending for FY 2014. The Senate CR is about $216 billion, or nearly 18 percent, lower than that. Actual enacted funding levels for FY 2010, when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, totaled $1.185 trillion in 2014 dollars. The Senate CR is about $200 billion below that, a cut of nearly 17 percent.

After the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives and offered a budget plan that proposed dramatic spending reductions. That plan, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), envisioned FY 2014 funding levels at $1.095 trillion. Note that the funding in the current Senate-passed CR is about 10 percent less than the levels in the original Ryan budget.

Finally, in August 2011, after a prolonged standoff over the debt limit, President Obama and Congress agreed to cut even more spending than the original Ryan budget demanded. The original spending caps in the 2011 debt limit deal limited funding to $1.066 trillion in FY 2014. The Senate CR accepts a cut of an additional $80 billion, or nearly 8 percent, from that compromise level.

Progressives have repeatedly made significant concessions in order to protect the economy from a series of manufactured crises. Today’s manufactured crisis is no different. The Senate-passed legislation to keep the government open sets funding levels that are even lower than previous compromises. If the Tea Party shuts the government down anyway, it will not be because progressives were inflexible. Just ask House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)—the compromise incorporated in the Senate CR was originally his idea.

Last night  Steny Hoyer shouted this on floor during one of the debates:

"This is not a negotiation -- we're taking their number, and we would hope that they could also take their number so we can keep the government open."

You see? The Democrats already folded. Sequestration is now the ongoing law of the land and Paul Ryan's budget wet dream is considered the "clean" continuing resolution. Huzzah.

And yet, they were not satisfied. (You've heard the old saw "give 'em and inch and they'll take a mile," right?) Here's  one view of the "Willimsburg Accord" from the more radical (yes, more radical even than Heritage Action) Madison Society from a few months back:

Back in January, a number of conservatives rendered themselves irrelevant in the fight for liberty by signing onto an incomprehensible agreement with leadership, known on Capitol Hill as the ‘Williamsburg Accord’ (yes, everything in Washington has to have a silly name). That agreement was aptly hatched at the GOP Retreat in Williamsburg. They agreed to suspend the debt ceiling law for 4 months and vote for a CR that funds Obamacare on condition that leadership keep the sequester and pass a 10-year balanced budget. The idea was to pass an amazing budget blueprint for everyone to support, and fight for it in return for lifting the new debt ceiling in May or June.

Let’s ignore the fact that the sequester was already a fait accompli, as Republicans would have been forced to succumb to tax increases in order to overturn it. Let’s ignore the fact that leadership forced the Democrat Violence Against Women Act down their throats with Democrat support. Let’s ignore the fact that there was nothing new in this year’s Ryan budget to improve upon last year’s budget other than $3.3 trillion in new tax revenue.

Let’s look ahead to the future. We’ve been playing this game for two years. If Boehner is going to buy into the notion that the debt ceiling is off limits, why in the world would the Democrats feel the need to agree to any aspect of the Ryan budget, much less defunding Obamacare? How could Boehner make this comment while he is concurrently telling his conference that he will demand dollar-for-dollar cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling – whatever that means?

Hence, the conservatives who signed onto this deal were punked – unless they also buy into leadership’s claim about default. If Republicans were really serious about dealing with this issue, they would pass Tom McClintock’s Full Faith and Credit Act (H.R. 807), which prioritizes payments for interest on debt. All of those conservatives who agreed to the Williamsburg Accord are co-sponsors of this bill? Why don’t they force leadership to vote on their bill ahead of the May 18 debt ceiling deadline?

It’s clear now that the vote to suspend the debt ceiling for 4 months had nothing to do with their desire to push for a balanced budget, rather it was an expression of fear – the same expression they are evincing to Obama ahead of the new debt ceiling deadline.

We are looking for new candidates who will not be possessed by this incorrigible fear during a time that calls for intrepid courage on the part of conservatives. I’ve already found several promising candidates, and will not rest until we find an army of new savvy contenders who plan to play by a different set of rules. The way we approach elections is not working. The movement is not doing enough to change the face of the Republican Party. And by voting to suspend the debt limit and funding for Obamacare in the CR, conservatives are making it harder for us to run against the moderates, obviating our ability to send them reinforcements. As we’ve explained this week with regards to taking down the rule on bad bills, we have failed to even match the passion and commitment of the ’94-era Republicans.

This must change.

Over the next few weeks, at the Madison Project, we will be updating our index scores for the 112th Congress and our hall of shame, which is comprised of liberal members in conservative districts. Sadly, it’s a long list. You can email me with suggestions of new candidates at Daniel@madisonproject.com. We can either complain or we can take action.

That is the alternate universe in which these grassroots/teaparty/lunatics dwell.

And yet this fact is all too real:  they've got the Ryan budget already. And they've already moved on to the debt ceiling, which all the Fox freaks were going on about last night.  Krauthammer suggested they could get Obamacare defunded if they are willing to hold out. They all believe the consequences of a default are phony concerns made up to force them to back down and they are having none of it. That threat to back primary challenges in those gerrymandered districts against those who deviate from this dangerous delusion is quite real (or these members of congress believe it is, anyway.) So, they are going to play this all the way out. 

But why wouldn't they? With the exception of some chump change from millionaires in the last round, the Democrats have been losing on policy every step of the way since these budget battles began, even as they seem to be winning the politics. What could be more telling than the fact that the numbers in Paul Ryan's budget are now considered the starting point in any new negotiations to end the shutdown. 

Who's being played here?

 
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