Belfast Telegraph

Republicans could have winning hand over budget

In spite of their high falutin' rhetoric about saving future American generations from a back-breaking national debt, the Republican Party's budget-cutting warpath also aims to land Barack Obama's political scalp.

And, given how Republicans are dictating Washington's agenda, the odds of Obama being a one-term-wonder grow stronger by the day.

The budget-slashing poker game, with its dizzying antes of tens of billions, has again underscored that the Grand Old Party is miles ahead of the Democrats in the bluffing department.

Eager to placate their Tea Party wing, Republicans began 2011 demanding $100bn (£61bn) in budget cuts. Taking a page from Obama's 'Can't We All Just Get Along?' playbook, Democrats soon dropped their original advocacy of $10bn (£6.1bn) in cuts and agreed to $30bn (£18.3bn).

Once Democrats folded, Republicans simply took the cash and upped the ante.

Topping off the agreed $30bn with $10bn more cuts squeezed from Democrats to avoid a March government shutdown, Republicans had already pocketed $40bn (£24.4bn) in cuts when they declared that they wanted $33bn (£21.1bn) more.

"Outrageous!", cried the Democrats. But, President Obama and Harry Reid, the Senate's Democrat leader, then privately offered to accept the GOP's $73bn (£44.5bn) target during talks with Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner.

The Republicans' response: "We want more".

"This $73bn was the Republicans' original proposal," Senator Reid later complained to the Press.

"So I guess they were for it before they were against it. But now they're moving the goalposts again."

In the end, after forcing the government to the verge of a shutdown, the Republicans clawed another $5.5bn (£3.3bn) in cuts.

And, since they've already made Democrats buckle repeatedly, the GOP is likely to again rumble their opponents when the 2012 budget battle begins in October.

Having navigated Congress's snakepit for decades, Reid can't be shocked that Republicans are playing their hand for all it's worth. Nor would he be surprised to learn that the GOP's budgetary brinkmanship dovetails with a broader strategy designed to boost Obama's Oval Office eviction odds.

Economists predict the massive cuts already agreed will strangle the still-fragile economic recovery. That's because huge public- sector layoffs will be required.

And, as the newly-jobless stop spending, businesses they regularly patronise will shrink, triggering a wave of private-sector layoffs.

Some, including Moody's Analytics chief economist, say the cuts will shrink the rate of growth by 0.7% by the end of 2012, costing 700,000 jobs.

That isn't to say that Republicans are heartless enough to ignore the human misery inherent in such scenarios. But they know that another unemployment spike will virtually guarantee them the White House in November 2012.

If the economy remains in the doldrums during the 2012 campaign, they'll claim this year's cuts were insufficient and that Obama and the Democrats blocked the type of serious trimming that would "get government out of the way" and let businesses thrive.

Recent events prove Republicans are now firmly in the driver's seat in Washington - even if they don't hold the White House. Yet.

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From Belfast Telegraph