Charlie Harper: Winning the compromise

December 16, 2013 

Hopefully this is the last column in which we talk about budget showdowns and shutdowns for a while. Perhaps you've enjoyed them. Frankly, they've been easy for me because I can almost cut and paste the last one. We've been in this cycle for a while. And provided the Senate votes to approve the House-passed conference committee compromise this week, we won't have this issue to deal with for two years.

And that, frankly, is the takeaway from this battle. The House Republicans and the Senate Democrats have finally acknowledged that we have battled to a stalemate. The never-ending series of Continuing Resolutions after the 2010 election to kick the can past the "next" election -- only to find that 2012 didn't solve anything -- have run their course. We now have a "budget" in place to run roughly two years. Congress will have to find something new to fight about.

For rabid partisans, this will be disappointing. It's a well-worn battle where everyone appears to know their roles. And for Republicans, that has been the problem.

The script has been roughly the following: The White House appeals to "reason." The Democrat-controlled Senate does nothing. And the most "conservative" factions in the House attack their leadership for trying to navigate the requirement to keep the government functioning. This, of course, has left the House leadership balancing the opposition from the Democrats who control the Senate and White House while being undercut for being less than pure from their own caucus.

The result has been years of short-term agreements in hopes of a bigger, more palatable solution. The reality has been a political version of the movie "Groundhog Day," where the process repeats itself over and over, with no different result.

This time, it is a bit different. It is true that the members and outside groups representing more conservative wings of the Republican Party are less than happy. That is standard fare with any compromise. The difference is that it is clear that after overplaying their hand on leading up to the government shutdown in October, there was less attention given to their demands this time.

Instead, House GOP members have given a nod to long-term strategy and taken the budget battle off of the table. While those Georgia congressmen running for Senate -- Broun, Gingrey and Kingston -- voted "no" on the measure, all other Georgia Republican congressman voted for it.

Those looking for evidence that this represents change should look no further than Georgia's 14th Congressional district. Tom Graves, Heritage Action's "Most Conservative" member of Congress for 2012, voted with Boehner.

Boehner after all did allow Graves' continuing resolution to pass the House that defunded Obamacare leading up to the shutdown. Graves seems to be returning the favor by supporting the leadership with an alternate route this time around.

It would seem that while many outside groups are using this opportunity to claim the Speaker is week, the evidence shows a House GOP caucus that has found a way to work together on issues of taxes and spending. Boehner is finally a man who appears comfortable in his job.

Boehner showed extreme confidence after the vote, expressing no love lost for those who have made his professional life miserable over each Continuing Resolution vote. His mocking of those who said they didn't actually think the shutdown would work with "Are you kidding me?" shows that he is not a man worried about losing the gavel, but rather one who understands his grip has become a bit firmer.

Lost in this squabbling is actual concern from Democrats over what Republicans were able to preen from the budget. Ninety-nine weeks of unemployment insurance benefits seems to be an entitlement that will now sunset. Along with it, 26 billion budget dollars were able to be shifted to other priorities, evening out some of the unintended effects of sequestration.

The fact that Democrats are genuinely unhappy shows that this was a real compromise. As of this writing, they were still trying to find enough votes in the Senate to make sure it would pass and become law. For once, Harry Reid will have to do some heavy lifting and counting, while Boehner can relax a bit out of the spotlight.

There are still authorization bills to be passed in the days ahead. The Farm Bill and tTransportation issues need immediate attention. Beyond those, House Republicans can begin to pick and choose issues they wish to be part of the national debate leading up to the 2014 election. Paul Ryan, quarterback of this budget compromise, has signaled that the long-delayed topic of tax reform will be on the table during 2014.

But most importantly, Republicans have the opportunity to take the battle from within their own party and focus on legislation that contrasts the GOP with Democratic positions. Republicans can now go on offense. The topics they choose, and how they present them, will be a major part of who controls Congress in 2015.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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