I don't use the word "defense" much when talking about the federal budget because it always prejudices the conversation. U.S. military spending isn't always defensive; it often is appropriately offensive and changing the name in 1949 from the Department of War to the Department of Defense should go down as one of the top 10 greatest public relations achievements of all time.
So why did I violate my own rule and use the word "defense" in the headline to this post? To make a point: In spite of all the spin and all the warm feelings Americans supposedly have about the military, Congress was more than willing to throw defense spending under the budget bus in the sequester. When it was a question of tax increases and Medicare reductions vs the Pentagon, not only did the Pentagon lose, but it wasn't even on the field or the same game.
I first posted a month ago about how House Republicans are increasingly acting as if there's no way they won't be in the majority at least through the end of this decade. Back in January I said that this was one of the primary reasons why the threat of a sequester and government shutdown had to be taken more seriously than most analysts were doing.
Now there's more evidence that the House GOP thinks its majority will continue to exist for quite a while.
At least that's how I read this story from The Hill by Russell Berman that explains how the House is letting the Senate go first so that Democrats can't avoid tough votes on a variety of issues as they have done over the previous two years when it refused to take up House-passed legislation.
I wanted to post this right after the House GOP retreat last month, but decided to wait because I might have been overreacting.
Now, however, the proof is indisputable: Even though they are in the majority in the House and make a great deal of noise about being part of the policy-making process, Republicans have clearly now abdicated all responsibility when it comes to the federal budget and simply decided it's someone else's job.
Consider the following:
1. After failing miserably on the fiscal cliff (remember the abortive Plan B?), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that it was now up to the Senate to deal with the situation.
2. Boehner also announced that he will no longer negotiate directly with the president on anything having to do with the budget. He reiterated that again this week when he said at a press conference that he now was going to let the Senate go first because, whenever he negotiated directly with this president it was his "rear end that got burnt.”
It now looks like the Senate on Wednesday will pass the "no budget no pay" version of the debt ceiling increase that has already been adopted by the House.
This will be the third GOP budget miscalculation, misstep and mistake in a row.
The first was the fiscal cliff, which turned out to be a political debacle for congressional Republicans in general and House Speaker John Boehner (OH) in particular. Boehner's Plan B disaster will go down in U.S. political history as one of the most ill-conceived efforts by any speaker on any issue. The ultimate result was that the House GOP was forced to do something it told its base it would never do -- allow an increase in taxes to be considered and enacted. It also had to kill the so-called Hastert rule (nothing comes to the House floor unless a majority of the majority are in favor of it) to do it.
The second was the empty GOP threat to use the federal debt ceiling to get the White House to agree to spending cuts. The dollar-for-dollar formula that for months Boehner had been saying was a nonnegotiable demand was completely dropped when the administration refused to negotiate.
Given what happened in July 2011 when they decided to do the opposite (you remember the anything-but-super committee, right?), we should all be happy House Republicans have agreed that this time they won't hold hostage the increase in the federal debt ceiling the Treasury says will be needed by the end of February.
We should also be grateful that legislation embodying the House GOP plan will be debated and presumably passed in the House today -- about a month before the deadline.
But it's important to note this moment in federal budget history: The House GOP plan is nothing less than total capitulation to the Obama administration and Senate Democrats.
How much of a surrender? In 2011 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was saying that a debt ceiling would never again get adopted unless the president agreed to concessions. Eighteen months later the debt ceiling effectively is being raised with no White House concessions and the GOP is struggling to come up with some kind of spin it can use to counteract what everyone can see...that it tucked its tail between its fiscal legs and rolled over.