Arbitrary targets vs. policy goals

ARBITRARY TARGETS VS. POLICY GOALS…. As bipartisan budget talks continue over the next couple of weeks, one of the angles to keep an eye on is what congressional Republicans consider more important: how much to cut or what gets cut.

This week, it was the former. House Republicans said they wanted $4 billion in cuts over two week, and found success when they gave up on their preferred cuts, and instead adopted reductions Democrats wanted to make anyway. Policy goals were deemed irrelevant; what mattered to the GOP was reaching the arbitrary spending target.

Will that continue to be the guiding principle for congressional Republicans? That depends on who you ask.

As far as Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) is concerned, policy priorities don’t matter nearly as much as price tags.

“The comment I get,” said Schweikert, talking about his colleagues, “is that they’re absolutely focused on the dollar amounts. We made promises. Are we coming close to meeting those promises? And those promises seem to be out-ranking — because they’re dollar-based promises — some of the policy that came with this.”

He was asked if he could support the CR even if, say, abortion funding ban language came out.

“If we stayed with our current policy,” he said, “I think we’d still be safe.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) heard a similar message this week — Senate Republicans don’t necessarily care what the $61 billion in cuts include, just so long as there are $61 billion in cuts. Numbers matter, substance doesn’t.

Some in the GOP see things differently.

A pro-life leader in the House says he and many other Republicans will vote against legislation to fund the government through September if a series of anti-abortion riders, which already passed the House, aren’t included in the final bill.

“I’m going to push so hard to make sure those are all in there,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) told Public Radio International. “You can’t back off, from a human rights perspective. If you do so you facilitate the demise of hundreds of thousands of children.”

Smith said several Republicans would defect on the spending bill if the abortion riders are removed. He focused specifically on one amendment, authored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), eliminating federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

In a way, this latter group seems more respectable. I vehemently disagree with their preferred policies, but at least they care about substantive outcomes. They see the process as one intended to lead to meaningful goals, and they’re prepared to fight to reach those goals. I hope they lose, but I can respect their approach.

But under the circumstances, I’m fairly certain Smith is bluffing. For that matter, I’m even more certain he’s in the minority — his colleagues, by all appearances, care far more about arbitrary targets than actually achieving desired policy outcomes. It’s budgeting at its most superficial.

That said, if Smith isn’t bluffing, and he can put together a larger enough contingent, it creates yet another headache for Boehner & Co. It’s likely Republican leaders can reach a budget deal with the White House, only to find they’d need significant Democratic support to get it through Congress.