What Are They Prepared to Do?

Kimberly Strassel asked this, and three specific questions, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week.

Her questions:

Question one: Do they mean it?  In the abstract, the debt ceiling is a powerful tool for forcing the president to give in to spending cuts. …

In the non-abstract, failure to raise government borrowing limits means US default—and with it potential credit downgrades, market panic and resulting economic distress.  Is the GOP willing to inflict that on the economy?  If Republican members instead run for cover, as they did with the cliff, the GOP will have been exposed as bluffers, and the administration will never again have to fear the debt ceiling.

Then,

Question two: What do they want?  Throughout the fiscal-cliff negotiations…the GOP shrunk from laying out its specific demands on Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

Do House Republicans have the courage to lay out big demands (say, premium support for Medicare or block grants for Medicaid), send a bill to the Senate, and sell entitlement reform to the public?  If they can’t face the demagoguery that Democrats will use against them for making substantive proposals on entitlements….

Finally,

Question three: What other hostages are Republicans willing to see shot?  Knowing he has lost his tax trump card, Mr Obama seamlessly moved on this week to the defense budget.  …Mr Obama intends to make further tax hikes the price….

Are the GOP’s defense hawks willing to stomach those cuts as a price for entitlement reform?  Having publicly campaigned against this slashing of the military, can the party stare down the president with a unified position?  Mr Obama is betting they can’t….

It’s pretty clear from the Republicans’ past performances in showdowns with Obama that all they’ll do is run for cover—too much of the party consists only of bluffers.  During the just concluded tax cliff matter, hey could have put up big demands concerning tax structure and tax rate reductions—just putting forward the Romney tax plan would have sufficed—but they quailed at the thought and shrank from their duty.  They also could have put up big demands concerning spending cuts—just putting forward the Ryan plan would have sufficed on entitlements—and big demands concerning so-called discretionary spending (so-called because all government spending is at the discretion of the Congress).  After all, Obama was publicly willing to conclude such a “grand bargain;” the Republicans should have held him to his word.  But they failed here, also.

On the matter of selling their position to the public, it’s pretty clear the Republicans have no capability for that, even if they had an actual position to sell.  They’re still not talking to us.

Vernon Pinkley, on walking the Republican halls of the House (or of the Senate), might ask, “Very pretty, Speaker/Minority Leader. Very pretty.  But, can they fight?”  The answer is, “No.”

I pointed out nearby the necessary and encouraging words of a rookie Republican Senator from Texas.  Unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe there are enough more Republicans like him to accomplish much of anything.

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