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Half a Loaf Reagan Would Have Taken

Is the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the vehicle for dealing with the federal debt limit and avoiding a fiscally irresponsible default by the U.S. government, ideal? No.

Is the Fiscal Responsibility Act worth voting for? Yes.

Consider what’s in it: spending caps for 6 years that hold federal spending nearly flat (and that bureaucrats and special interests that live off federal spending are wailing over); budget cuts as incentive to fund government by regular order—congressional appropriations; defunds new IRS agents, who’d surely harass average citizens and small businesses; spares taxpayers who didn’t take on student loan debt from bailing out financial risk takers who did; reclaims unspent COVID funds; work requirements for able-bodied SNAP/Food Stamps and TANF recipients; closes loopholes by which states cheat on meeting welfare reform work requirements; reins in regulatory excess with administrative PAYGO guardrails (this constrains agencies across the government); better than halves the bureaucratic NEPA process timetable for infrastructure and energy projects; expedites permitting for the Mountain Valley natural-gas pipeline; and a 2-year debt limit extension, removing that sword of Damocles as a pre-election day weapon.

That’s not everything in the House-passed Limit, Save, Grow Act, but it’s not nothing. The fact is, the Limit, Save, Grow Act was never the bill that would reach the president’s desk. But the Fiscal Responsibility Act certainly goes a long way past a “clean” debt ceiling measure. It advances conservative principles, it achieves protaxpayer victories, it reins in the Administrative State and it limits federal spending along with clawing back taxpayer money.

If that’s not a step toward protecting property rights, then what is--that could pass this narrowly divided Congress and get President Biden's signature? It’s more than a reasonable person might have hoped for, but for the savvy approach Speaker McCarthy and Republican leadership persuaded a majority of their colleagues to support. It’s more than most though possible, but for the trust GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate put in the legislative strategy that has gotten a real chance at enacting a debt ceiling bill with several constructive reforms and fiscal responsibility measures.

My perspective stems from being in Washington beginning when President Reagan resided in the White House and both parties, both sides of the Hill and the principled conservative president understood that their job was governing.

Not compromising principles, but not misunderstanding that governing entails cutting deals that give each side something but not everything. Such a bill may not be satisfying, but it’s usually prudent, responsible and gets you something.

Not making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Not being obstructionist when obstructionism would do more harm than good—which default would surely do. And make no mistake: President Biden and his party wouldn’t reap deserved blame (i.e., for refusing to negotiate for months, for playing a brand of brinksmanship that would make the Soviets and Chairman Xi proud) if the Fiscal Responsibility Act failed.

Understanding that, at the end of the day, most constituents elect their Senators and Congressmen to legislate, not become a Don Quixote.

I strongly suspect that Reagan would have taken the deal. That’s how Reagan got tax cuts, tax reform and other legislation through Congress. Reagan’s former OMB director, James Miller, recounted Reagan’s approach to governing as a principled, pragmatic conservative:

“Despite being tenacious and consistent, President Reagan would go to Congress and ask for certain things. He’d also compromise from time to time. When he’d get a half a loaf, would he say, ‘Thank you for this wonderful piece of legislation; this is exactly what I wanted’? No. He would say, ‘Thank you for giving me this half a loaf. Next year, I’ll be back for the other half!’”

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