The New Congress: Deficit Reduction at All Costs
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Kirk Victor,
The Fiscal Times
January 3, 2011

Okay, here’s the Republican drill for 2011: Cut at least one government program a week, dismantle chunks of the Democratic health care reform law, regularly summon Obama administration officials to justify their policies, turn back the clock on spending levels to 2008 and blunt the impact of tough new regulations on banks and credit card companies.

And that’s just for starters. With the arrival of an army of hard-charging conservative freshmen House and Senate members – many who rode to victory under the Tea Party banner of deficit reduction and tax cuts – GOP leaders are being prodded to challenge the status quo by shredding the president’s budget and  downsizing government.
“The president’s agenda may be the agenda of Washington, but beginning this Wednesday, January 5th, the agenda of this House will be the agenda of the American people,” declared John Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the new Republican-controlled House. Boehner treats compromise like it’s a dirty word, while over in the Senate – where Democrats barely maintain control after the disastrous midterm election –  Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky doesn’t mince words in saying his major goal is to oust President Obama in 2012.

To be sure, there were signs of old fashioned bipartisanship in the post-election lame duck session of the 111th Congress last month, when Obama and Republican leaders rammed a massive $858 billion tax cut and stimulus package through the Senate and House. And Obama prevailed in enacting legislation to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that prevented gays to serve openly in the military, and in winning Senate confirmation of the new START nuclear weapons treaty with the Russians.

There may be other opportunities for compromise between the White House and the GOP in certain discrete areas such as a free-trade agreement with South Korea, educational reforms, highway and infrastructure spending and even movement toward a deal on tax reform, along the lines recommended by the president’s fiscal commission.

But a number of congressional experts and many lawmakers doubt there will be many Rose Garden signing ceremonies in the coming year or two. They note that Republicans are determined to deprive Obama of victory laps heading into the 2012 presidential campaign. Instead, they say, expect standoffs and showdowns punctuated by a few agreements that GOP leaders sign off on to prove they are not the party of “No.”

“There is going to be a lot of gridlock,” said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University. “The polarization that has characterized Congress more and more over the last couple of decades was intensified and institutionalized by the results of the election.”
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed, adding that “What [Obama] is basically going to end up doing is turning most of his focus to preserving what he has already done.”

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.