Well, this explains a lot. House Republicans clearly believe proposing and passing a budget that balances in ten years will be a big plus for them in the 2014 midterm elections. As Politico reports, an internal GOP poll finds that not only do Republicans and Independents love the idea, 45% of Democrats support it, too. Large majorities in key districts think balancing the budget will create jobs. Even better for House Rs, those voters seem to like their specific approach: Getting to balance via entitlement reform and spending cuts. After the 2012 debacle, a silver bullet.
But I see some problems here:
1. Will voters love the actual House balanced-budget plan as much as the general idea? The blueprint’s weak points — such as keeping Obama’s taxes but not Obamacare’s spending and deep cuts to discretionary spending — gives ammo to those who will question its seriousness. Because GOPers reject a) raising revenue by limiting tax breaks for higher income Americans, and b) accelerating Medicare reform, they are forced into using budgetary gimmicks to make the math able to hit their arbitrary fiscal target. One decision makes it easy to paint them as the party of the rich, the other like they don’t have the courage of their convictions.
2. Mitt Romney edged President Obama on who would better handle the economy and budget deficit, but got swamped on the empathy issue. By devoting even more capital to a macro issue where it already has an edge, the GOP risks delaying the development of a detailed and coherent policy agenda to deal with the many other problems that legitimately concern voters, such as health care and education. It’s like they are further reinforcing a Maginot Line that Democrats have the opportunity to nimbly sidestep.
3. The balanced budget plan also delays policymakers having a real conversation with center-right voters about how much, realistically, government spending can shrink given the need for the US to remain a global military superpower and the aging of the US population. The contortions evident in the GOP budget itself are evidence of this.
4. There is nothing wrong with proposing ideas voters actually like. There is nothing wrong with proposing less-than-perfect policies that have a better chance of winning voters or passing Congress than idealized versions. “Don’t let your 80% friend become your 20% enemy” and all that. And by focusing on the need for spending cuts and entitlement reform rather than tax hikes, the House GOP budget is far, far better directionally than the Senate Democratic alternative. But, in the end, the plan is too much about marketing and message and too little about sustainable solutions.