Over at Real Clear Politics, I explain why Republicans are taking a big risk by committing themselves to balancing the budget in a nine-to-10 year timeframe, without raising revenue or significantly affecting the military.
The result is a budget that would completely decimate the federal government, gutting essential programs that support college grants and school lunches. Unlike the radical Paul Ryan budgets of recent years, this one will likely pass both chambers of Congress, effectively becoming the party's platform, yoking to it blue- and purple-state Republican senators up for reelection next year.
The budget is so insane that even deficit hawks concede it will never happen. (Congressional budgets are nonbinding resolutions, lacking the force of law.) This may be why Republican leaders are willing to get behind it; it's a sop to the debt-obsessed tea-party right that doesn't actually require any cuts.
But continually allowing the tea party to dictate the party platform has consequences. At Real Clear Politics, I spoke about the short-term political risk for Republicans. But there is also a long-term risk to the soul of the Republican Party.
This budget defines the Republican Party as believing that balancing the budget as fast as possible, no matter the cost, is our nation's overriding priority. That's a big problem, because it crimps the ability of the party to define itself as the party that knows how to create jobs, or the party that knows how to raise wages, or the party that knows how to make college affordable, or the party that knows how to shore up our weakening private pension system – in other words, defining itself on the basis on issues that middle-class families are struggling with on a daily basis.
To start defining itself on those terms, the Republican leadership needs to get rid of the tea-party deadweight. This is not a liberal pipe dream. We know House Speaker John Boehner is capable of staring the tea party down when he deems it necessary – such as when he passed hurricane relief funds and when he averted a Department of Homeland Security shutdown. He may do it sparingly, but he has done it.
In fact, Boehner is doing it twice this week on the budget. He is working with Democrats on boosting Medicare reimbursements for doctors, and with Republican defense hawks to boost military spending. In both cases, it's without offsetting the costs, to the deep dismay of the fiscal hawks. Fox News' Chad Pergram warns that these are not minor intraparty tussles, they "could break the House."
Yet Boehner won't put the same effort into explaining to the Republican base that the tea party's fiscal vision is nonsense.
That would kick up more dust, of course. But it's a conversation they must eventually have, if they are ever to craft a governing agenda with a prayer of actually being implemented.