The 2013 political courage test: Will Congress stand with the people?
On Thursday, the House of Representatives is expected to pass a six-month Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through March 2013. The CR is expected to gain bipartisan support, and will fund the government at the levels dictated by the Budget Control Act (BCA). The Senate may pass it as soon as next week.
Unfortunately, the CR does not defund the President’s health care law either in part or full. As such, Tea Party Patriots co-founder and National Coordinator Jenny Beth Martin is calling upon conservatives in Congress and across the country to oppose the legislation. According to Martin, “The budget is where Congress can show where its priorities stand: with the American people, who oppose the health care law, or with Big Government-centered health care reform.”
Last week, Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) told me that he pushed for this approach to a partial-year funding of the federal government because he felt the risks of pushing things off to the lame duck session that typically takes place after an election were too great:
Rep. Jordan: First, let me say that a bunch of us conservatives pushed for this, on the House and Senate side. You know how this game is played — a CR that lands in the kind of situation we’re looking at — a lame duck session — will impact defense, and the government will threaten shutdown, the troops won’t get paid, etc. We thought it was important enough that, while we don’t want to have a full year at the level of spending, hopefully a new Congress and/or new President will get a new, lower level in the last six months of the 2013 fiscal year.
When asked for comment yesterday related to funding the health care law, RSC spokesperson Brian Straessle e-mailed the following statement:
We’re talking about solid conservatives who have never supported spending at this level and never voted to fund ObamaCare. They don’t like this bill at all. Sadly, the alternative is even worse.
If conservatives vote for a straightforward 6 month bill, Sen. Reid and President Obama won’t be able to use a CR in the lame duck session as a vehicle for a massive, catch-all omnibus/Farm Bill/tax hike.
Without conservative votes, they’d just pass a shorter-term version of the exact same bill. It would expire in November or December and give Reid and Obama more leverage to wreak havoc in a lame duck session.
It’s a lose-lose situation, so conservatives are doing what we can to try to limit the damage.
While grassroots conservatives should have some sympathy for Jordan’s position — he is a proven fiscal conservative put in a very difficult voting position — the fact is that budget legislation is exactly where Congress can tell President Obama where its priorities and values are. After all, what else is federal spending, if not a prioritization of various values in a society? This is an important chance for conservative Members of Congress to show that their values are unequivocally in line with the values of the American people.
One argument by the chattering class of pundits against holding the line on the health care law will likely be that a government shutdown — which is what would happen if President Obama vetoed a CR that did not include funding for the law — could devastate the chances of victories against liberal candidates on all levels in November. Simply put, this kind of calculation is exactly why Tea Party Patriots was first started: in Washington, the right decisions are too often pushed off until next time, until things are easier tomorrow, or next week, or after the next election.
Additionally, a government shutdown would only happen if too many Members of Congress sided with the big insurance companies and oversized federal bureaucracies instead of the people they are elected to serve. For Republicans, following the principles upon which they were voted into office in 2010 should be simple, and for Democrats, many of their constituents oppose the law. Principles and representing constituents are the two reasons Members of Congress should be voting for legislation, after all — not because of election concerns or campaign donations.
However, one cannot ignore Jordan’s concerns above; moderates and liberals could very well pass worse legislation without conservative support, and next year the odds are at least even that there will be a Washington more dedicated to full repeal of the President’s health care law. Unfortunately, Jordan’s line of thinking includes the assumption that many Members of Congress will have the fiscal and electoral courage necessary to overcome lobbyists and big government temptations. Were every Member of Congress able to overcome those obstacles, we would never run a deficit and America would be thriving. The simple fact is that since the 112th Congress first banged down the gavel those elected to stop overspending have failed in this duty. Consider:
- The April 2011 debate over the 2011 budget was originally promised to cut $100 billion. That number was dropped to $60 billion, and then agreed to at $38. However, it turned out the actual savings in 2011 were a mere $350 million — which wasn’t even a cut, but instead a cut in the expected increase in the budget.
- The Budget Control Act was supported with the agreement that there would be ten-year “cuts” in exchange for an equivalent increase in the debt ceiling. Now it appears possible that Congress will overturn the Budget Control Act, meaning conservatives in Congress voted for legislation that may not cut anywhere close to the level the law dictates.
Simply put, grassroots activists have learned that when it comes to legislation, now is now, and next year is always uncertain.
Finally, the chattering class and certain politicians may say Tea Party Patriots are extreme for taking this position. Don’t we know that Congress takes time to consider and pass legislation, and pushing for a hard line on the health care law the same week of voting is a tough thing to do? The response to this is also simple: Congress just spent five weeks on campaign swings through respective districts and states. Yet it is only in session for two legislative weeks in September, and one in October before another month-long campaign break/recess/“district work period.” Who’s more extreme — the activists who hold politicians accountable, or the politicians who fight harder for re-election than the future of the country?
When all is said and done, conservatives in Congress were elected by grassroots to repeal the health care law and stop overspending. They have failed to do this, and so grassroots activists across the country are asking them to finally take a stand against the big government, big-spending health care law before it may be too late. After all, all elections are uncertain, and waiting until next year may cement the law in place for good.
Dustin Siggins is the online content coordinator and blogger for Tea Party Patriots. Tea Party Patriots is a national grassroots coalition with more than 3,500 local chapters and more than 15 million supporters nationwide. This piece was originally published in the Hot Air Green Room.