An inaugural gift from the GOP

U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

Audience members wave flags from the National Mall during the 57th Inauguration Day events in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Before Obama placed his hand on the Bible on inauguration day, his rout of the House Republicans was virtually complete.

    Tweet This

  • Sticking with the Boehner rule would be a “small victory” writes @MarcThiessen

    Tweet This

  • Many Republicans are coming to realize that they can’t govern from one house of Congress.

    Tweet This

They should be holding today’s inauguration on the deck of the USS Missouri instead of the steps of the U.S. Capitol, so Barack Obama can formally accept the surrender of the GOP. Before Obama even places his hand on the Bible today, his rout of the House Republicans is already virtually complete. Not only have Republicans capitulated on taxes by violating their no tax pledge, Republican leaders have now announced that they are capitulating on spending as well, by violating the “Boehner rule.

All this before Obama’s second term even began.

In the 2011 debt-limit standoff, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) established the Boehner rule, declaring that henceforth Republicans would insist on at least one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in debt limit increase. This may have been one of the most important fiscal policy innovations in a generation. The rule is simple, it is perfectly reasonable, and it is broadly popular. A recent poll found that 72 percent of Americans agreed that “Any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by spending cuts and reforms of a greater amount.” Only 22 percent disagreed.

Most importantly, the Boehner rule is not a gimmick. Just following this basic rule could restore fiscal sanity to our country. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has calculated that following the Boehner rule would reduce spending by more than $3 trillion over a decade and pave the way for full balance — getting  the budget deficit to below 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and spending below 20 percent of GDP, by 2022. On Tuesday, Portman will introduce the “Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act,” which would codify the Boehner rule and mandate that any future increase in the national debt be matched with equal or greater spending cuts.

Unfortunately, House Republicans have already announced that they will violate the principle they established, and pass a three-month debt-limit increase this week without any spending cuts. Instead of cuts, the GOP will insist that the House and Senate pass formal budgets by April, or else forgo their Congressional pay. “The principle is simple: no budget, no pay,” Boehner declared.

Sorry, I thought the principle was “a dollar of spending cuts for a dollar of debt limit increase.”

Republicans claim this is no retreat, but they are not fooling anyone. White House press secretary Jay Carney celebrated the GOP capitulation, declaring the president was “encouraged” that the GOP was  finally ready to “back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education, and programs middle class families depend on.” A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the GOP move “reassuring.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it a “major victory” for president. And The Post editorial page welcomed the GOP’s “apparent abandonment” of their “economically nonsensical” insistence that any increase in borrowing authority be matched with equal or greater spending cuts.

Sorry, linking the raising of the debt ceiling to spending reductions is neither nonsensical nor ground breaking. In fact, every significant debt reduction bill in the last 27 years — starting with Gramm-Rudman-Hollings in 1985 — was linked to a debt-limit increase. It seems to be the only thing that forces politicians in Washington to cut spending.

So why on earth would Republicans abandon that leverage, much less violate the promise they made to follow the Boehner rule on all future debt limit votes? Charles Krauthammer explained the GOP thinking this way: Many Republicans are coming to realize that they can’t govern from one house of Congress; the GOP needs to forget about forcing Obama to enact fundamental tax reform or structural reforms to entitlements and go for small victories instead.

Fair enough. So Republicans may not be able to force Obama to enact structural entitlement reforms, like those advocated by Rep. Paul Ryan. Perhaps fundamental tax reform is off the table as well — because Obama will use it to demand another round of tax increases.

But abandon the Boehner rule as well? Sticking with the Boehner rule would be a “small victory.” It is the floor of what the GOP should support in exchange for a debt-limit increase. This is not an idea coming from the far right fringes. If someone with the gravitas and mainstream credibility of Portman is saying that this is the path Republicans should take, maybe it’s time for the House leaders to stop and listen.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


Marc A.
  • A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about U.S. foreign and defense policy issues for The American and the Enterprise Blog. He appears every Sunday on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" and makes frequent appearances on other TV and talk radio programs.

    Follow Marc Thiessen on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-7173
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Justin Lang
    Phone: (202) 862-5948

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.