Are bitter conservatives "clinging" to spending cuts? That's the tone of New York Times political editor Richard Stevenson's front-page "Political Memo" Monday, "G.O.P. Clings to One Thing It Agrees On: Spending Cuts ," which contained a whopping 13 "conservative" labels (and a couple of "liberals" as well).
Conservative governors are signing on to provisions of what they once derisively dismissed as Obamacare. Prominent Senate Republicans are taking positions on immigration that would have gotten the party’s presidential candidates hooted off the debate stage during last year’s primaries.
Same-sex marriage has gone from being a reliable motivator for the conservative base to gaining broad acceptance.
Republican lawmakers are so fearful of social issues, in fact, that House leaders ignored intense objections from conservatives last week and allowed the passage of Democratic legislation on domestic and sexual violence against women.
All of which helps explain why Speaker John A. Boehner and Congressional Republicans have been so intent on facing down President Obama in their budget dispute. Aware that conservatives could never accept a second round of tax increases this year -- and that compromising with Mr. Obama on his terms would lead to party divisions far deeper than those that have emerged so far -- Republicans judged that the better course was to take on the economic and political risks associated with the automatic spending cuts that took effect on Friday.
The paper's typically slanted, "conservative"-heavy labeling aside, Weisman's analysis isn't necessarily wrong. But there's a pro-Democratic triumphant undertone in his portrayal of how each party's tactics will play out.
Four months after Mr. Obama won a second term, the only issue that truly unites Republicans is a commitment to shrinking the federal government through spending cuts, low taxes and less regulation. To have compromised again and agreed to further increase taxes or roll back spending cuts would have left Republicans deeply split and, many of them say, at risk of losing the core of the party’s identity.
There are risks for Republicans in taking a hard line on the spending cuts, especially if the unemployment rate jumps and the economy slows. Democrats are highlighting estimates by the Congressional Budget Office that the fiscal cutbacks could leave the economy with 750,000 fewer jobs this year. And they are warning that while the effects will play out slowly, the cuts will eventually hit voters in noticeable ways.
With the party divided on so many other fronts, feelings are running especially high when it comes to holding the line on taxes. Conservatives are excoriating Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, a Republican, for championing a tax increase to pay for transportation projects.
Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, a group that is critical of Republicans it considers to be insufficiently conservative on fiscal policy, said: “Republicans have not had a hard time convincing the base they are conservative enough on social issues. They have had a hard time convincing the base they are sincere on economic issues because they have grown the government.”
The internal divisions after the party’s fourth loss in the last six presidential elections and the recognition that inexorable demographic shifts are working against a reliance on its traditional base have set off the most fundamental debate since the Reagan years about the future of conservatism.
Liberals dismiss the exercise as a sham intended to distract attention from enduring ties between wealthy interests and conservative policy and politicians. That is a point implicitly recognized by many Republicans, who are looking for ways to defend the party’s small-government philosophy without being portrayed by Democrats as imprudently abstemious and against middle-class interests.
They are starting to talk about focusing less on reductions in marginal income tax rates -- long the primary goal of Reagan-era supply-siders -- and more on tax changes, like increasing the child credit or reducing payroll taxes, that would more directly address the stagnation in middle-class incomes and growing inequality.