There was so much more they wanted to do.
Three years ago, Republicans retook the House with a fire-eating confidence and an ambitious plan to remake the U.S. government. They wanted to cut spending, of course. They wanted to get rid of Obamacare.
But that wasn’t supposed to be the list. That was supposed to be the start.
The House GOP also wanted to take away funding for PBS. And Planned Parenthood. They wanted to change the future of Medicare. They voted to roll back EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. And of mountaintop-removal mining. And of the Chesapeake Bay.
Now, after forcing four national crises, the House GOP can count one major victory. One major defeat. And a large number of opportunities lost.
Government spending was cut. That was the victory. But the president’s signature health-care law lives. And many of the GOP’s specific ideas for paring down government and eliminating liberal priorities were neglected as the House threw itself into all-consuming showdowns.
Today, from the conservatives’ own perspective, so many changes are still unmade.
And the one tactic that worked doesn’t work anymore.
“You changed the conversation the first time” the House Republicans threatened a government shutdown, said Michael D. Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute.
But, he said, Republicans never moved beyond their crisis strategy, to the more nuanced task of wresting individual changes in law. “They didn’t seem to have an Act Two,” Tanner said. “And not having an Act Two means you go back and do this again.”
The arc of the current Republican era in the House can be traced through its four great crises. In the first, they learned. In the second, they won. In the third, they struggled. In the fourth, they were whupped.
The first showdown was in April 2011, just months after they took over. Republicans threatened to force a government shutdown if Democrats didn’t agree to budget cuts. Just minutes before the deadline, they did.
But, later, new Republicans would feel misled: Many of the $38 billion in “cuts” were Washington illusions, designed to change little in the real world.
The second showdown came in summer 2011, when Republicans threatened not to raise the national debt ceiling. This time, the GOP and President Obama agreed to set caps on annual spending and to set in motion a bigger, broader budget cut: sequestration. This was a massive cut — $85 billion in the first year — spread across much of the federal government.
It was designed to be so bad that it wouldn’t come true: The two parties would be scared into agreeing on a less-painful alternative.
Then they didn’t. And it did come true. Now, to House Republicans looking backward, sequestration — designed more like a booby trap than a real-world policy — looks like one of their signature achievements.
Thanks to those cuts, and others imposed since the Republican takeover, federal spending in fiscal 2013 was projected to be about 5 percent lower than in 2010 (accounting for inflation).