Column: Budget deal is a blessing in disguise for conservatives

Former House Speaker John Boehner talks with reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday after he pushed toward a vote on a two-year budget deal despite conservative opposition, relying on the backing of Democrats for the far-reaching pact struck with President Barack Obama. (AP)

Last week, Congress passed a budget deal, arranged in negotiations between the White House and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, to increase both domestic and defense spending.

The increase will be paid for in offsets and cost-saving entitlement reforms. The deal will also raise the debt limit until March 2017.

Though the deal is a poor one from a conservative point of view, passing it may be a politically strategic move for Republicans. 

Many conservatives have railed against the bill, including Senator Ted Cruz, who lambasted the Republican leadership for betraying the party’s principles and serving the interests of Democrats. Senator Rand Paul had threatened to filibuster the bill, yet that procedure was not feasible since over 60 senators voted for it, a filibuster-proof supermajority. Senator Marco Rubio also voted against the bill.

Conservatives are right to observe that this is a “rotten deal,” to use Rand Paul’s language. To those who adhere to a small government ideology, it is merely another bitter pill to swallow.

It increases domestic spending, military spending and supports greater and greater deficit financing. Our debt will continue to increase and the federal government will continue to swell in size.

This deal in many ways seems to be something of an unholy alliance between Democrats committed to increasing domestic spending and hawkish Republicans committed to increasing military spending.

The minority that wants to reduce all types of spending continues to go unheard. 

Yet despite the deal’s troublesome characteristics from a conservative point of view, it may be a politically strategic move even for conservative Republicans.

The constant squabbling over the debt ceiling and appropriation bills will be significantly reduced, at least until March 2017.

Though the tendency of the deal is upsetting, this budget bill can be seen as a gift from John Boehner on his way out to the new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan will not have to enter his speakership in a period of high Congressional tension and fiscal wrangling. This may give him time to build up more credibility as leader of House Republicans and help unify the party. If he is able to successfully lead Republicans in a way that always eluded John Boehner, the party may be able to enact small and limited conservative victories while President Obama remains in office.

At the very least, the reduction of Congressional infighting and the demonstrated ability of Republicans to govern and work with congressional Democrats and President Obama will build up Republican credibility with the American people. 

The Republican Party has a lot of work to do in restoring its brand and is simply not in a place to be instituting bold conservative policy proposals with President Obama sitting in the White House.

Perhaps now the party should be more moderate in their goals and more willing to compromise.

If Americans see that conservative politicians can be more than merely obstructionist and theatrical hacks, perhaps they will be more willing to elect a Republican president in 2016.

However, that outcome may not be likely should one of the current GOP frontrunners win the nomination. The Republican Party must become more pragmatic, more intellectual and more level headed if it is to succeed in modern American politics. It is important to have strong ideological convictions, but Republicans should rely on reasoned argument rather than elaborate histrionics in expressing those convictions.

Furthermore, the party must consider what is the most effective manner of getting its preferred policies adopted. The current approach is not succeeding. The Republican caucus is dysfunctional and disunited. Some elements are hyper-partisan.

Though this budget deal is a blow to the principles of fiscal conservatism and one that small government Republicans should advocate for, the party frankly does not have the political leverage to achieve anything much better at the moment.

Republicans should take advantage of the temporary stability this bill will bring about and use the next two years to prove to the American people that it can be an intelligent and reasonable governing party. Using the reprieve created by this budget deal wisely may help restore some of the party’s credibility, influence and leverage, potentially paving the way for a Republican president in the near future and the opportunity to implement truly conservative policies. 


Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at brian.mccarty@uconn.edu.