Judd Gregg shows what’s wrong with establishment thinking


Growing up in New Hampshire, I was deluged with positive reviews of then-Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) by the New Hampshire Union Leader. Senator Gregg was praised as a budget hawk, so I was confused when I came to D.C. in late 2008 and saw him help create TARP. Then, after leaving the Senate, he became part of the revolving door of power when he went to work for Goldman Sachs as an international advisor.

Senator Gregg did a number of good things in office, such as strongly pushing for a substantial, if imperfect, tax reform bill in 2010 with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (R-OR). He is also credited with effectively killing the CLASS Act before it could be implemented. However, it is clear he leans toward the establishment that has put America into its current fiscal and economic circumstances.

The former Senator showed this establishment tendency yet again in his column for The Hill yesterday. In the column, Gregg claimed the sequester gives House Republicans a chance to come back from their “course of assured self-destruction.”

Gregg’s entire column is full of establishment rhetoric. From the beginning:

From the summer of 2011 until the end of 2012, House Republicans effectively removed themselves as an entity that the American people could look to for anything other than dysfunction and chaotic misdirection.  They were not seen as contributing to the process of leading the nation. To most folks on Main Street, they seemed irresponsible and destructive.

After the year-end “fiscal cliff” debacle, it did not look like much would change as the backbench breast-beaters talked with great bravado about how they would not allow a debt-ceiling extension. This was a course of assured self-destruction.

In other words, Republicans who held to their campaign principles of cutting spending and not borrowing America into oblivion were foolish. Never mind how President Obama and his Democratic allies launched spending to record levels. Also, ignore how the Senate has refused to pass a budget since 2009. And, I suppose, also pretend the media bias against these principled fiscal conservatives doesn’t exist – bias that created the negative view “most folks on Main Street” may have of House Republicans.

Next, Gregg says the sequester is more important than the debt ceiling debate:

It was therefore something of a delight to see a sudden burst of strategic reason prevail as the House Republicans turned their attention away from the debt ceiling and toward the sequester.

Didn’t the House do this in 2011, the first of those awful years Gregg just bashed? Didn’t the sequester pass the House for strategic avoidance of the debt ceiling? Kicking the can down the road again doesn’t appear to be a big deal to the former Senator.

The very next paragraph offers perhaps the greatest flaw in the column:

There will never be a better chance for Republicans to accomplish their goal of containing the rate of growth of spending than is now presented by using the sequester as the vehicle of leverage.

One point two trillion dollars, all on the spending side, is not small change.

First, the debt ceiling was the best chance to balance the budget, which is the goal of Tea Party-minded Members of Congress. “Containing the rate of growth of spending” does nothing more than slow how quickly spending gets out of hand.

Second, at least Gregg is honest – sequestration doesn’t actually cut spending. It merely slows the rate of increases in spending.

On the other hand, $1.2 trillion in spending reductions (over ten years, something he neglects to mention) is indeed small change. Consider the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, which estimates Congress will spend $47.2 trillion over the next decade. $1.2 trillion in spending reductions is a mere 2.54% of that spending. This is equivalent to a ten-year cut of $254 when you plan on spending $10,000 in that time period, and are also running deficits of about $240 annually.

To be fair, Gregg does have three consecutive paragraphs with good things in them:

This, of course, means that Republican defense hawks must be willing to support the effort. The conventional wisdom is that they will not give the House leadership that much running room. But if the defense hawks can look beyond the present to the long-term implications of this critical fight, they should be able to stand with the effort.

As numerous military and congressional leaders have pointed out, the single biggest threat to our defense structure is the weakening of our nation as a result of the debt’s debilitating effect.

This confrontation over the sequester will be the first real opportunity to make the debate about spending restraint and specifically entitlement reform — the issue which lies at the core of any long-term correction of our fiscal house’s problems.

He also correctly diagnoses the President’s unwillingness to cut spending:

The president and his party have made it clear to any honest observer that their interests do not lie with controlling the growth of government.  They see revenues as being the solution to deficits. They believe even with the historic expansion of the federal government that has occurred in the last four years — an expansion that will continue for the next four years — that more revenues can always be found to abate the effects of this spending spree.

Unfortunately, Gregg begins his closing with the same establishment error he started with:

This is a rare opportunity, especially for a group of people who seemed to be intent upon defeating themselves.

Gregg shows a severe misunderstanding of the difference between “defeating” oneself and kowtowing to the same “compromise for its own sake” attitude that has brought America to its current fiscal and economic states.

If the House GOP really wanted cuts, it would hold strong on the debt ceiling. Perhaps the party would be harmed, since many Americans are only fiscally conservative until the cuts impact them. Perhaps Democrats would win seats in 2014. But the simple fact is history shows spending cuts will rebound our economy from its current weak growth level, which helps the nation. Additionally, it will be difficult for the Big Government folks in Washington to take eliminated programs and re-establish them, meaning this growth could continue for some time. In the end, that’s what being a politician should be about – doing what’s good for the country, not for re-election.