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The hard right-wing of the GOP took a drubbing Friday when the House conservative caucus blinked and gave up its ideological items in the federal budget. In what was generally perceived as a nod to the “Tea Party”, House Republicans had insisted on a cut in funding for women’s health programs, and in particular for Planned Parenthood, an organization conservatives view as an abortion factory. But resistance by Senate Democrats forced a showdown, and at the eleventh hour before a government shutdown House Speaker John Boehner announced an agreement: the disputed funding was left intact.
This fight was just a prelude to the real battle that is about to begin. The budget the two parties fought over was for last year – a partly retro-active bill to fund the government for the rest of 2011. Now both sides are sharpening their budget-cutting rhetoric for the 2012 budget involving cuts in the trillions rather than billions.
The GOP is now going into that fight at a disadvantage. The deal they made to end the 2011 budget squabble is going to anger the ultra-conservatives in the party, and widen the ideological rift that already splits the Republicans. They now find themselves having to craft a 2012 budget that will pass the Democratic majority in the Senate and President Obama’s veto power, yet somehow assuage the ire of the “Tea Party” faction and their hard-right ilk.
The risks are huge for Speaker Boehner and other House leaders. The “Tea Party” faction has threatened to run candidates against them in the 2012 primaries if they don’t push the ultra-conservative agenda in Congress. That makes it critical that Boehner and associates don’t blink again. And that assures another biting, kicking, and scratching contest over the next budget.
What do American voters make of all this? Well, if you’re from California you are just seeing a federal-level replay of that state’s annual budget pissing contest. And in California each impasse contributes more venom to the two-party relationship. They don’t learn any lessons from it. They don’t seem to realize how these childish antics alienate the public. I see no reason the House and the Senate in Washington should be any smarter.
The real winner here is Barack Obama. The President let the Congress act-out until the last-minute, then stepped into the middle of things and now looks like the only adult in the bunch. These are domestic points he needs in the face of his losing score in Afghanistan and now Libya. So far Libyan costs are “only” in the hundreds of millions. If that situation drags on and costs more money, and possibly American lives, Obama will need all the positive PR he can get.