WASHINGTON – Republican conservatives were the chief winners in the budget deal that forced Democrats to accept historic spending cuts they strongly opposed.
Emboldened by last fall’s election victories, fiscal conservatives have changed the debate in Washington. The question no longer is whether to cut spending, but how deeply. Rarely mentioned is the idea of higher taxes to lower the deficit.
Their success is all the more notable because Democrats control the Senate and White House.
But more difficult decisions lie ahead, and it’s not clear whether GOP lawmakers can rely on their winning formula. They pushed Democrats to the brink, then gave in just enough to claim impressive achievements, rather than holding the line and triggering a government shutdown that might have yielded far less politically.
The GOP victories came on spending. Their concessions dealt mainly with social issues, where they tried to limit abortions and restrict environmental rules.
House Republicans who care intensely about such social issues may fight harder next time, giving Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, fewer bargaining chips to appease Democrats. Tea party Republicans, some of whom found the cuts too small in Friday’s last-minute agreement, might insist on deeper ones from now on.
Two fast-approaching debates could make this past week’s showdown look like a preliminary skirmish.
Congress soon must vote to increase the government’s borrowing limit to avoid the first-ever default on U.S. loan payments. With the 2011 budget battle still fresh, lawmakers are now focusing on the spending debate for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The House Budget Committee has approved, on a partisan vote, a bill that would cut spending by $5.8 trillion over 10 years and make major cost-saving changes to the Medicare and Medicaid health programs.