Quin, Republicans can’t benefit politically from people’s ignorance of the budget process — i.e., their belief that a deal was struck to cut $38 billion from this fiscal year’s spending — and then, when the CBO demonstrates that the reality is more complicated, yell at them for not understanding the budget process if they don’t like it. Many of their own members did not understand the technical details and many people with budgetary experience comparable to yours have complained to me about how this was put together. Five Republican appropriators voted against this continuing resolution.
Republican leaders have done a poor job managing expectations throughout this whole process. They allowed the expectation they would cut $100 billion or $61 billion to take root by throwing those numbers around without explaining what they meant. Then when they deliver something that has almost no effect on this year’s deficit, contrary to what most of their supporters expected, it is a little rich to complain, “Well, you don’t understand the way this process works.” The fact people didn’t understand was how they built political support for this continuing resolution in the first place.
I’ve not been a knee-jerk critic of this deal. I’ve always maintained that the long-term budgetary picture is more important than the fight over six months of spending on programs that aren’t even the main drivers of the debt crisis. I knew there were limits to what the Republicans could get controlling only the House and thought it wise to avoid a government shutdown unless it was brought on by Obama’s veto. And, by the way, I did not say “most” of the spending cuts were smoke and mirrors. My exact words were “more reliant on smoke and mirrors… than when the broad outlines were announced late last week.”
But given the limits of what was possible, success or failure was always going to be more political than fiscal. Republicans campaigned on reversing the trajectory of government spending and doing business differently than the Democrats. So making a small dent in spending while avoiding a shutdown was a political win. But announcing a deal and then having the dispiriting details come out right before a vote, winding up making an even smaller dent in spending this year, took a lot out of this win. It reminded a lot of people of the party they wanted Republicans to replace. Fair or not and like it or not, that’s the takeaway — the fallout, even — of this vote for a lot of conservatives.