In the upcoming weeks, the foreign policy debate concerning Syria will fade as a new debate roils Washington. The abnormal inter-party agreement and disagreement over military intervention will be gone, and “business-as-usual” partisan politics will return, with Republicans taking stands based upon principles that lose in general elections and Democrats taking stands based upon principles that threaten to send the country into crisis in the future. The next big debate concerns how we will fund the government.
Under federal law, Congress must pass a budget for each fiscal year in order to fund the government. Unfortunately, over the past five years Democrat-controlled Congresses have refused to pass budgets. Once Republicans took control of the House in January 2011, they actually did pass budgets, although these never passed the Senate. In such instances, Congress passed continuing resolutions to keep the lights on in the absence of formal appropriations bills. Early this year, Congress passed a continuing resolution that is due to expire on Oct. 1 of this year. The stage is set for another high-profile budget battle.
If Congress decides to avoid the underlying issue of the government’s impending debt crisis (as they have done in the past), they could pass yet another continuing resolution and prevent a government shutdown. There are, however, many conservative Republicans who wish to use the debate over the continuing resolution to political ends. Led by Sens. Ted Cruz [R-TX] and Mike Lee [R-UT], a movement is growing within the conservative ranks to tie any increase in the debt ceiling to the defunding of the 2010 health care reform bill, Obamacare. They vow not to vote for any continuing resolution that includes funding for Obamacare, but the president and the Democrat-controlled Senate will hardly go along for the ride — the result is the current brinksmanship, and the likelihood of a government shutdown.
On the other side, Democrats see the continuing resolution debate as yet another manufactured crisis by their opponents, with President Obama accusing Republicans of extortion for their attempts to defund his signature (now wildly unpopular) accomplishment. The president and a large majority of the Democratic members of Congress believe that Congress should fund the government without condition; that this belief happens to comport with Democrats’ convictions about the size of government (which will increase steadily if left unabated) makes their appeals ring less sincere.
While these are the two dominant camps in the debate, there is also a third view, which happens to be my own. Republicans are slowly but surely beginning to recover in the polls after last year’s election disaster: Why would they want to jeopardize this political change in fortunes? If the continuing resolution is not passed before Oct. 1, the government will shut down. There is precedent for the political consequences of a shutdown, specifically from 1995, and history shows that the public, however unfairly, blame Republicans for shutdowns.
The best course of action right now — both for the country and conservatism — is the status quo: let the government continue to operate and let Democrats, specifically the president, continue to make mistakes in the run-up to the 2014 elections.
Even though senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee were elected to Congress in part to stand up for fiscal responsibility, they shouldn’t try to do this unilaterally. The Republican leadership must have their eyes focused on the 2014 Senate elections if they wish to take charge and begin the unenviable task of reining in our $16 trillion national debt. A country cannot be run based on one majority in one house of a bicameral legislature, and the Republicans should not even try.
—Connor Kitchings is a freshman studying political science