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October 2, 2023

The Real Reason for a DC Fire Alarm

Republicans are infighting rather than governing, and the result is a loss for America.

We’ve seen this movie before, and we didn’t like it any of the previous times. Republicans in Congress decide it’s more important to fight with each other than to competently govern, and the government either shuts down or Democrats “save the day” with a last-minute measure to keep things open. Either way, squabbling Republicans look petty and incompetent, and the nation just keeps spending its way into eventual bankruptcy.

Don’t get us wrong — that last part means it’s critically important for our nation’s future to rein in federal spending. A quick trip down memory lane will illustrate.

In 1995, when Republicans began that particular episode of Shutdown Theater, the national debt was a quaint $3.6 trillion. In that case, at least, Republicans managed to balance the budget for a few years.

The national debt reached $11 trillion by the end of George W. Bush’s two terms, $20 trillion at the end of Barack Obama’s (despite more Shutdown Theater grandstanding), and $28 trillion by the end of Donald Trump’s single term. We recently surpassed $33 trillion thanks to Joe Biden’s commitment to “fiscal responsibility” putting us “on a sustainable fiscal path.”

Washington, we have a problem.

Which brings us to the deal reached over the weekend to keep the government running a bit longer. Having to rely on House Democrats to do it, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy managed a short-term spending deal to extend funding through mid-November. The vote was 335-91, with 90 of the “No” votes coming from his Republican caucus. The measure passed the Senate 88-9, and Joe Biden signed the bill Saturday night, hours before the midnight September 30 deadline.

McCarthy is hardly the white knight of great statesmanship, and the deal is not an example of good governance, but House Republicans need to face a simple reality: They control one half of Congress, and by only four votes at that. They don’t have the power to enact the spending revolution some members would like to pretend to usher in.

Moreover, as Republicans led by Trump proved from 2017-2018, there’s little appetite in the GOP to actually control spending. And no we don’t mean that as a criticism of the tax cuts, which the Leftmedia always bring up as Exhibit A of fiscal irresponsibility. That across-the-board rate cut was the best thing to come out of those years in Congress and drove the economic prosperity pre-COVID.

There are basically two reasons profligate spending only continues to get worse. First, both parties have built coalitions based upon certain spending items, and those items must never suffer so much as a slight reduction in the rate of growth. The biggest drivers of the federal debt are what we might call “earned entitlements” — Social Security and Medicare. Nobody seems remotely interested in reforming those programs because it’s a political death sentence to try.

Second, Congress has largely abdicated its role as the first branch among equals. Why bother governing — and risk taking any blame — when the modern president can do anything he wants with the stroke of a pen, or when the courts can legislate from the bench? Instead, Congress bungles from one continuing resolution to another, largely abandoning the traditional budgeting process that, in hindsight, looks remarkably responsible by comparison.

It is that latter part that makes Republican infighting the spectacle that it has become. Too many members of Congress are more interested in building their own personal profile and brand than in governing. He’s a fighter. She’ll hold the establishment accountable.

What do we actually get? Business as usual, but with more theatrics for social media.

While a Democrat was literally pulling a fire alarm, Republicans are once again trying to tar and feather their own speaker.

“I have tried for eight months,” McCarthy said after relying on Democrats for the necessary votes to avoid a shutdown that would rightly be blamed on Republicans to their detriment. “I tried yesterday with the most conservative stopgap funding bill you could find. I couldn’t get 218 Republicans.”

Instead, Republicans got a bill with none of their priorities except for withholding more funding for Ukraine.

Representative Bob Good claimed it was “total capitulation.” That wasn’t McCarthy’s fault.

After totally undermining McCarthy, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz promised to work to remove him. But there’s a catch, and National Review’s editorial board put it succinctly: “Matt Gaetz is so upset that Kevin McCarthy cooperated with Democrats on passing a temporary spending measure to forestall a government shutdown that he wants to work with Democrats to topple McCarthy as speaker.”

Who does Gaetz want to replace McCarthy? What conservative statesman is he putting forward to lead the herd of cats called the GOP to victory over the Democrat Senate and White House?

He’ll get back to you on that.

“I want to secure the border,” said McCarthy of Gaetz. “He wants to secure interviews.”

Gaetz’s House colleagues are growing weary of him. Mike Lawler called him a “charlatan,” and Carlos Giménez dubbed him “Joe Biden’s favorite Republican,” not without reason. In fact, some Republicans are making rumblings about removing Gaetz, not McCarthy.

But as for McCarthy’s speakership, either Democrats will help save him — for a price — or they’ll help Republicans topple him just to watch the GOP burn. Stay tuned.

The bottom line is the same as it always seems to be these days. Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be able to take a hostage without pointing the gun at their own heads. Democrats then have a field day, spending continues to rise at astronomical rates, and the nation careens toward an eventual fiscal cliff.

Maybe chaos really is the solution. Maybe blowing up DC is exactly the only way forward. But it’s easy to see why so many Americans who are not ideologically invested are so utterly fed up with everything in the swamp.

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