How the GOP Budget Could Help Hillary in 2016
Policy + Politics

How the GOP Budget Could Help Hillary in 2016

As former Secretary of  State Hillary Clinton prepares to formally launch her second quest for the Democratic presidential nomination in the coming weeks,  congressional Republicans may have  provided her with a useful roadmap in unifying her party.

By passing a ten-year balanced budget plan aimed at eviscerating the Affordable Care Act and cutting $5.5 trillion of domestic spending over the coming decade, House and Senate Republicans provided plenty of red meat for their conservative base. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) hailed the document as “pro-growth, balanced budget that establishes a stark contrast between our vision for the future and that of the president.

Related: GOP Presidential Aspirants Clash over the Budget

There’s real reason to look at entitlement spending in the long term—especially health care—in terms of the country’s growing unsustainable debt. In ten years, or by the end of 2025, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the nation’s debt will rise to $21.2 trillion, or 77 percent of GDP. Much of that debt will be because of unfunded entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.

Congressional Republicans clearly delineated the stakes for Democrats and independents in the coming battle for control of the White House. Let’s be clear: the central tenets of the GOP plan – including scrapping Obamacare and overhauling and cutting Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other pricey entitlements, will not see the light of day as long as President Obama is in office. Even if the Republicans could somehow manage to get the bulk of their controversial initiatives to the president’s desk, he would veto them.

The situation, of course, would be much different two years from now if a Republican such as Wisonsin Gov. Scott Walker or conservative Sens. Rand Paul of Kentukcy, Marco Rubio of Florida or Ted Cruz of Texas  are at the helm of government.

Clinton, the former first lady and New York senator, wasted little time earlier this month skewering the emerging GOP balanced budget plan with a few well timed tweets asserting that the conservative blue print “fails” the American people.

Clinton, who reportedly is assembling her campaign team and even choreographing a specific role for former President Bill Clinton, tweeted that “budgets reflect priorities” and that the Republican blueprint offers a chilling vision for the future.

She said on Twitter that the nation's future — jobs & economic growth — depends on investments made today. The GOP budget fails Americans on these principles."

Related: Marathon Voting Session Leads to Senate Budget Passage

Her approach may well parallel the Obama campaign effort to tarnish former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP presidential campaign by tying him closely to an austere budget crafted by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that is very similar to this year’s Republican balanced budget plan.

Clinton, the prohibitive favorite to garner the 2016 presidential nomination, has stumbled repeatedly recently. The revelation that she used her personal email, rather than official email, during her tenure as secretary of state and erased many messages caused a political uproar. Hillary and her husband have been under fire for their huge speaking fees and their family philanthropic foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign countries including Saudi Arabia.

There are also many questions of precisely where she stands on trade issues, tax policy and other matters.

 Still, nearly eight in 10 Democrats have a favorable view of her, according to Gallup. And she would begin the campaign with a commanding lead as she attempts to unify her party by reaching out to liberals who harbor suspicions about her long-standing relations with Wall Street.  

Related: Budget Battle Begins: A Must-Have Guide

Clinton could point to the  Republicans’ blue print as the antithesis of her underlying campaign themes of helping the middle class by boosting wages  and creating more economic opportunities for average Americans.

It became abundantly clear late last week that the GOP plan was posing problems for some presidential aspirants in the Senate. While Rubio and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), voted in favor of the budget, they did so only after extracting tens of billions of dollars of additional defense spending they deemed essential for national security.

Paul and Cruz voted against the budget in the wee hours of Friday morning. Paul and Cruz both justified their votes by citing their disapproval of budgetary gimmicks and unwarranted deficit spending.

It was also possible they didn’t want their fingerprints on a controversial budget document cutting programs for seniors and middle class families as they campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary and caucus states.

Related: Hillary Clinton’s 5 Big Privacy Issues (Before the Emails)

“It has  always been a theory that the Republicans would overreach in 2015 and 2016 with their proposals or legislation, and in that way they would give the Democrats an advantage in the 2016 election,” Peter Hart, a veteran Democratic pollster and analyst, noted  in an interview Monday. “Obviously the balanced budget fits that formula – which is an overreach.”

Hart said that the congressional Republicans’ decision to move ahead full steam with their austere spending policies would put the GOP presidential candidates on the defensive. Some of the more moderate candidates, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be reluctant to sign off on the details of the plan for fear of alienating potential backers outside of the GOP conservative base.

At the same time, controversy over the Republicans’ budget and social spending policies may redound to the benefit of Clinton, who would find it easier to bridge more centrist and liberal Democrats in common cause.  

The House and Senate-passed GOP budgets derive more than two-thirds of their  non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes – even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Moreover, spending on these programs is already scheduled to decline as a share of the economy between now and 2025.

Related: GOP 2016: Scott Walker Has the Lead, Jeb Bush Has the Money

With so much at stake on health care and other vital social spending, the moderate-leaning Clinton could make a strong case to her party’s liberal wing that she is best equipped to win the election and succeed Obama as the bulwark against the GOP.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a liberal Democrat from Washington State, told the Associated Press earlier this month that the current budget debate is “a very central part not just of 2015 but 2016.” She said it was critical for the party to demonstrate “the ideas and investments we’re going to make to give Americans more economic opportunity.

 With Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a favorite of the party’s liberal wing adamant that she will not challenge Clinton for the presidential nomination next year, and others including Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, it will fall to Clinton to enunciate those new policies.

“Warren’s supporters have, for the most part, always been willing to accept Hillary as the almost inevitable nominee,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato.

“Their goal was to move her to the left,” Sabato said in an email message yesterday. “My guess is Clinton will use the opportunity to point to the GOP's budget and remind liberals what is at stake and how they can count on her to oppose the cuts.”

Related: The ‘Draft Elizabeth Warren’ Effort Gets $1M Boost

William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, cautioned that – not withstanding all the Republicans’ tough talk and boasting about their non-binding budget plans—they may  pull back before the end of the year and approve far less draconian policies. Although the  GOP leaders will have considerable leverage in pushing through new spending and entitlement policies,     Obama is well positioned to thwart many of their more controversial measures.

“I just think there’s room for more than reasonable doubt about how far these resolutions go, or whether they really would be the program of the Republican Party,” said Galston, a government expert with the Brookings Institution

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