House passes ill-fated ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance Act’

There was quite a bit of buzz on Capitol Hill yesterday, but nearly all of it was on the Senate side — the Gang of Six’s presentation of its debt-reduction blueprint caused quite a stir. House Republicans, meanwhile, were overshadowed while wasting an enormous amount of time debating, voting on, and passing a right-wing fantasy.

House Republicans on Tuesday approved an ambitious but legislatively ill-fated plan to enact deep spending restraints that could clear the decks for a compromise over the debt limit.

The so-called “cut, cap and balance” measure passed on a party-line vote, 234-190, as nine Republicans — including presidential candidates Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas) — and five Democrats defected.

Democrats excoriated the GOP for advancing the bill, which the White House has threatened to veto.

In general, major media outlets didn’t much care about developments in the House, and as editorial judgment goes, that was probably a wise move. Yesterday was about theater: House Republicans went through the motions in order to feel better about themselves, while signaling to the far-right GOP base that the House majority is every bit as radical as advertised.

The nation doesn’t have time to waste — the drop-dead deadline is now 13 days away — but House Republicans said they needed this little vanity exercise. The plan will now go to the Senate, where it will die. In the exceedingly unlikely event it somehow passes the Senate, President Obama has already said he’d veto it.

In theory, the House GOP simply needed to get this out of its system. Now that “Cut, Cap, and Balance” has its day in the sun, and far-right lawmakers have some political cover, policymakers can get down to the real work on preventing a catastrophe on Aug. 2. We know CC&B can pass the House; the next task is figuring out what else can pass the House.

But before we move on from this ridiculous, right-wing plan, let’s not brush past too quickly exactly what House conservatives endorsed yesterday. Even if this was just theater, and even if everyone in the political world knew this was not a serious attempt at policymaking, it’s hard not to marvel at just how far these House Republicans are willing to go.

Remember the radicalism of Paul Ryan’s budget plan? “Cut, Cap, and Balance” makes Ryan’s plan look centrist by comparison.

We’re talking about a plan that would immediately take $100 billion out of the U.S. economy, eliminating thousands of jobs in the process. It would make draconian cuts to key public priorities, including education, infrastructure, and energy. It would gut Social Security and Medicare, and make it almost impossible for any Congress to ever raise taxes on anyone ever again. It goes out of its way to protect tax cuts for the very wealthy, while targeting the most vulnerable.

It doesn’t even do an effective job of reducing the deficit, since that wouldn’t be the point — this is about dismantling the modern American government itself; not bringing the budget closer to balance. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Bob Greenstein explained that CC&B “stands out as one of the most ideologically extreme pieces of major budget legislation to come before Congress in years, if not decades.”

The plan is practically a caricature of Republican priorities — it’s something liberals might come up with as an exaggeration to make the GOP look ridiculous — and yet, just yesterday, it passed the House, 234 to 190. As radical as this is, 96% of the House Republican caucus voted for it, even knowing it would fail. (The percentage would have been slightly higher, but some GOP members voted against it because, they said, it didn’t go far enough.)

I’m glad Washington can now turn its attention to real solutions to the impending crisis, but these 234 conservatives, which included a handful of Blue Dog Democrats, shouldn’t be let off the hook too easily. This is a vote that should shame them indefinitely.