Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ryan's Rule

From today's National Review Online:

Under a new rule, Paul Ryan can set budget levels for 2011.

All eyes will be on President Obama this evening as he delivers his much-anticipated State of the Union address. But it’s a momentous day for House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) as well. Not only has he been tapped to deliver the GOP response to Obama’s speech, but by the time the president arrives at the Capitol, the House almost certainly will have passed a rules resolution giving him unilateral authority to roll back the budget to 2008 levels. This, as you’ll recall, was a central component of the GOP’s “Pledge to America.”

To be clear, the rule itself does not cut spending; it merely gives Ryan the ability to set limits that the House Appropriations Committee must respect when it passes a spending resolution for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. These limits are usually set by a “concurrent” resolution — that is, one passed by the House and the Senate but not approved by the president — but Congress failed to pass one last year. Defense spending and entitlements are not included. And of course, to take effect, a spending resolution that passes the House under Ryan’s policy will also have to go through the Democratic Senate and President Obama.

But today’s vote on the rule will force all House members to go on the record on spending cuts and — because most Democrats will likely oppose the measure — set up a contrast between the two parties ahead of the president’s address. It will also serve to highlight Ryan’s remarks. All considered, today will mark the opening salvo of the showdown over the budget.

Predictably, House Democrats are up in arms over the new rule. They say that in addition to excluding the Senate from the budget process, it puts too much power in the hands of one person. And not just any one person. Ryan’s reputation as a perennial budget hawk has many on the left in a frenzy over the prospect of deep spending cuts. Many are already sounding the alarm over entitlement programs, which Ryan dared to single out for reform in his much-maligned (by the Left) “Roadmap for America’s Future” — despite the fact that, again, these are not included in Ryan’s new budget powers. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said that simply by selecting Ryan to give the SOTU rebuttal, House Republicans were “doubling down on their disastrous plans to gamble Social Security funds on Wall Street and dismantle Medicare.” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein predicted that elevating Ryan in such a way could come back to haunt the GOP by highlighting the “Roadmap,” which Klein called a “timebomb” for Republicans.

As for the vote itself, Democrats contend that it is little more than a publicity stunt — an attempt to steal the president’s thunder on the day of his address. Rules Committee ranking member Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) chided Republicans for trying to “cut spending with a press release.”

Republicans, on the other hand, point out that similar authority was given to the budget chairman in 1999, after Congress had similarly failed to adopt a budget resolution the previous year. “It strikes me as an odd communications strategy for House Democrats to devote considerable time and energy to draw attention to their own historic budget failure,” Ryan spokesman Conor Sweeney tells National Review Online. “They oversaw an unprecedented breakdown in the budget process for fiscal year 2011, and are now complaining that fiscal year 2011 has deviated from the normal budget process.”

In a hearing last week, House Rules Committee chairman David Dreier (R., Calif.) emphasized that Republicans, contrary to some Democratic claims, would not be “gutting” any programs simply by returning to 2008 levels, and that the new rule was “merely the very first step in an ongoing effort to bring our federal budget back into the black.”

The House Appropriations Committee must draft a spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 (through September) once the current continuing resolution expires on March 4. Appropriations chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) has welcomed the new rule. “As I have said before, it is my intention to craft the largest series of spending cuts in the history of Congress,” he said in a statement. “My committee is working diligently on this right now.”

Another looming deadline is February 15, when President Obama is due to release his budget for fiscal year 2012. That’s when Ryan will get his first crack at drafting his own annual budget. The bulk of the budget fight will consist of efforts to reconcile these competing proposals. “I expect our numbers will be slightly lower than his,” Ryan joked at the National Press Club earlier this month. Another obvious point of contention will be Republican efforts to exclude from the budget any funds slated for the implementation of Obamacare.

Today’s vote, Obama’s address, and Ryan’s response will lay the groundwork for the struggle ahead. In fact, a war of words is already underway, as early reports indicate the president will be discussing the need for “investments” in areas such as infrastructure, clean energy, and education. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) says that’s a “code word for more spending,” but added that Republicans are eager to hear what Obama has to say. After a series of moves suggesting that the White House intends to embrace the political center, they hope to find out just where he stands on fiscal issues. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) called the speech “a trust-but-verify moment” for the GOP. Either way, don’t expect an overabundance of applause lines designed to appeal to Republicans.

Of course, a bitter fight between the two parties over budget cuts is to be expected. But there have also been signs of a conflict brewing within the GOP itself. The conservative House Republican Study Committee released a proposal last Thursday that would cut a whopping $2.5 trillion over the next decade. The plan would cap federal spending at 2006 levels — significantly lower than 2008 levels — and was seen by many as a direct challenge to the House Republican leadership. “This is the day we stop kicking the budget can down the road and get our fiscal house in order,” Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) said at a press conference introducing the plan.

The Rules Committee has already made efforts to shore up its proposal. The resolution the House is voting on today includes an amendment from freshman member Rep. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) that changes the original text authorizing Ryan “to reduce spending through a transition to non-security spending at fiscal year 2008 levels.” It now reads: “. . . to fiscal year 2008 levels or less.”

The measure is certain to pass the House, so Democrats will quickly turn their attention to Ryan’s response to the president. Now that his party is in the majority, the new budget chair will be under much greater scrutiny. On the left, he’ll be criticized no matter what — he’ll either “destroy the middle class” by cutting too much, or break campaign promises by cutting too little.

Conservatives, meanwhile, are thrilled to have Ryan in charge of setting spending limits and responding to the president. Republicans believe that few are better suited than Ryan to make the case for — and then implement — fiscal prudence.

— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin Fellow.

Abortion Debate Returns, But Now in a Pro-Life Nation

Great piece from Chris Stirewalt at FoxNews.com...

The abortion debate has returned with vigor to Congress after many years of dormancy, and the result may be different this time around. That's because while Washington wasn't watching, America became a pro-life nation.

House Republicans are taking up the issue in a variety of ways. First, they're looking to close the loophole in President Obama's national health-care law which they say could provide federal subsidies for elective abortions.

They're also looking to strip funding for Planned Parenthood, as part of their general move for budget austerity. And we can expect more moves on this front in the weeks to come.

Part of this is Republicans doing the bidding of the people who put them back in the majority. Pro-life groups are a huge bloc of the Republican coalition and activists demand results in exchange for all the help they provide. Even if the GOP doesn't succeed in changing laws right away, it's good base politics.

And for all the talk about the 2010 elections being all about taxes, spending and the size of government, the issue of abortion played an unmistakable role on both sides.

Of the 22 pro-life House Democrats who voted for Obama's health-care law, despite concerns among pro-life groups about the federal subsidy loophole, only five returned to Congress this year. Some would have lost or retired anyway, but there's no doubt that the issue, and the pressure from pro-life groups, turned some races.

For many swing-state voters, especially moderate, Catholic Democrats, abortion is a make or break issue. John Kerry's 2004 presidential defeat in Ohio could be attributed to Catholic voters who preferred his policies to those of George W. Bush on almost every issue, except that one.

One of the other notable trends of 2010 on abortion was the number of Democrats who used the issue as part of a bid to paint their Republican challengers as "extreme." Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado rallied socially liberal Denver suburbanites to his side by running ads casting challenger Ken Buck as an abortion hardliner. House candidates across the country used the same approach to varying degrees of success.

And while Republicans will continue to be at risk of the extremist label, especially in suburban districts, the last decade shows a remarkable shift in public attitudes on abortion.

FOX News polls show a 20-point shift on the subject in the past 14 years. In 1997, 50 percent of respondents considered themselves "pro-choice," while 40 percent considered themselves "pro-life." In the poll out last week, the numbers were reversed. Half of the respondents said they were "pro-life," while only 40 percent embraced the "pro-choice" label.

Gallup has been tracking the issue since the 1970s, and what their polls reveal is that in the 37 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, Americans became at first more and more pro-choice but, starting in the late 1990s, moved against the concept of elective abortions.

The high-point for the pro-choice movement was in 1990 when Gallup found 31 percent thought abortion should be unrestricted, 53 percent thought that it should be allowed under only certain circumstances and 12 percent thought it should always be illegal.

In Gallup's last poll, taken in the summer of 2009, only 21 percent were pro-choice absolutists, 57 percent thought the practice should be limited and 18 percent favored a total ban.

So how did America become a pro-life nation?

Part of it is generational. For Baby Boomers, the right for a woman to choose to have an abortion was a central battle in the fight for gender equality. The issue was all tied up with the Equal Rights Amendment, women's liberation and other political fights of the 1970s. Being pro-life was equated with being anti-equality.
For the children of Baby Boomers who were not there for the creation of this confusing political hybrid, the issue doesn't seem to fit. Plus, equality isn't as grave a concern for women today. The battles of previous generations seem like remote concerns.

Part of it is also technological. The ultrasound machine has had a huge effect on the debate over when life begins. The mysteries of "quickening" and gestational development have given way to 3-D pictures of little people with little fingers and little toes. Proud parents get these pictures framed and keep them on their desks now.

Add to that the revolutionary advances in care for premature births and in-depth studies of fetal development and you have badly damaged the case that abortion does not end a life.

Social conservatives are usually on the losing end of societal trends. Gay marriage seems increasingly likely and gays will soon serve openly in the military.

Social conservatives have lost their stands against no-fault divorce, gay adoption, smutty television shows and other bright-line social issues. America has a more permissive culture than it did 10 years ago and history tells us that it will likely be even more permissive in another decade.

But on abortion, it is possible that in the long term, the right may win the battle. One day, Democrats may have to do on abortion what they have done in the past decade on gun control and cede the issue.

Chris Stirewalt is FOX News' digital politics editor. His political note, Power Play, is available every weekday morning at FOXNEWS.COM.

Father-Daughter Conversation....

A bit of light humor provied by Kip P.:

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch conservative, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the need for more government programs.

The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school.

Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, "How is your friend Audrey doing?" She replied, “Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.”

Her wise father asked his daughter, “Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA."

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, “That's a crazy idea, how would that be fair! I've worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!”

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, “Welcome to the conservative side of the fence.”
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