Why did the GOP surrender the spending fight?


US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stand together during a news conference with fellow House Republicans at the US Capitol in Washington, October 4, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • No one appears to be talking about enforcing the Boehner Rule. Not even Boehner.

    Tweet This

  • @marcthiessen Sticking to the Boehner Rule should be a no-brainer.

    Tweet This

  • The Budget Control Act was not supposed to be the end of the spending fight, but rather the beginning.

    Tweet This

  • Republicans seem to have surrendered in a spending fight they can win to focus on battles they cannot win.

    Tweet This

So whatever happened to the GOP fight to cut spending?

Remember during the last debt-limit showdown, when House Speaker John Boehner promised that Republicans would henceforth insist on at least one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in debt limit increase? As Boehner put it, from now on “any increase debt limit has to be accompanied by spending reductions that meet or exceed it.”

It became known as the Boehner Rule.

Yet when the speaker recently laid out a laundry list of conditions for a debt-limit increase, he included a hodgepodge of GOP demands — from approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to a broad rollback of environmental regulations. Conspicuously absent were any “spending reductions that meet or exceed” the increase in the national debt.

Over the weekend, National Review’s Robert Costa reported that Republicans are talking about a package of modest demands to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit — including a mechanism for revenue-neutral tax reform, small entitlement reforms and minor changes to Obamacare (such as repeal of the medical-device tax, a measure that enjoys bipartisan support).

But no one appears to be talking about enforcing the Boehner Rule. Not even Boehner.

Sticking to the Boehner Rule should be a no-brainer. A December 2012 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.” By contrast, while a growing majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare, only 27 percent wanted Republicans to shut down the government in an effort to defund it.

In other words, Republicans are abandoning an issue where they enjoy supermajority support while pursuing a strategy that a supermajority of Americans oppose. That makes no sense.

Instead of continuing the shutdown and folding the spending bill into the debt-limit deal, Republicans should secure the gains they made with Budget Control Act by passing a “clean continuing resolution” to keep government funded at the current level without shutting off the sequester. Then, in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase, they should insist on the one demand that most Americans will see as entirely reasonable: Codify the Boehner Rule into permanent law, and cut one dollar in spending for every dollar of debt-limit increase.

There is legislation ready and waiting to do just that. Sen. Rob Portman has introduced the Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act, which would require that any legislation to increase the debt limit include non-interest spending cuts of an equal or greater amount over the next decade. Portman’s bill would require a three-fifths supermajority to raise the debt limit without matching spending cuts. He calculates that this would reduce spending by nearly $2 trillion over the next 10 years, get spending back below the historical average of 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and reduce the deficit to 1 percent of GDP by 2023. That would be no small achievement.

Since the next debt-limit increase will have to be about $900 billion to get through the 2014 elections, dollar-for-dollar cuts would need to be equal to that amount. But $900 billion over 10 years is not a lot. It comes to just 2 percent of the $46.677 trillion that the Congressional Budget Office projects will be spent over the coming decade. It would be hard for Obama and the Democrats to justify default because they don’t want to cut spending by 2 percent, particularly if the Republicans put forward entitlement changes in Obama’s own budget proposal. But if they want to cut less, they can raise the debt ceiling by less.

The Budget Control Act was not supposed to be the end of the spending fight, but rather the beginning — the first of many victories needed to get our fiscal house in order. But Congressional Republicans seem to have surrendered in a spending fight they can win to focus on battles they cannot win. The result will be that they will lose both.

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
    Email: marc.thiessen@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Justin Lang
    Phone: (202) 862-5948
    Email: Justin.Lang@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
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.

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