Regardless of the immediate fallout from the shutdown, there is little doubt in my mind that conservative Republicans in the long run will not be the scapegoats for this impasse. Their willingness to have taken a stand with consequence will have strengthened, not weakened, their political clout, if not backbone.
But there emerged, through all of the bickering and blue smoke of the past few weeks, a proposal, its roots found in the Reagan years, which stands not only as a monument to cool thinking amidst the antics in Washington.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga) ranks at the top among U.S. senators with high conservative scorecards. Isakson, who had the courage to first seek office in his state’s legislature as a Republican in a then-completely Democrat state during the year that Richard Nixon resigned, has never lacked the courage to speak his mind.
He caught some flack last week when he bluntly stated that the shutdown was “a dumb idea.” And despite my contention that the shutdown will ultimately prove to be putting some “bite” in the GOP’s bark, Isakson is right in the sense that it was handled poorly. As predicted, it allowed President Obama to use the threat of hitting the debt ceiling as a pre-Halloween “trick,” to force another budgetary “treat.”
But Isakson, who is noted in D.C. circles for having delivered the final nail in the coffin of the idiotic Obama-led effort to unilaterally intervene in Syria, is proposing a true long-term conservative solution to these future budgetary passion plays.
Isakson has introduced legislation (which passed the Senate as a non-binding resolution) to require that Congress appropriate under what is called a “biennial” budget. That basically means two years to create and oversee a budget, rather than this annual rushed fiasco that we currently undergo.
Under Isakson’s proposal, the actual budget would be passed in odd-numbered years, while the following year would be devoted to oversight of federal expenditures. One obvious plus to the Isakson proposal would be the breathing room this would provide Congress and the nation in creating a federal budget.
But the greater value to the biennial budget proposal comes in the second year. No budget in the first year, no oversight. No oversight, no reason for being in Washington until there’s a budget. No reason to grandstand. No opportunity to hold hearings or demand accountability. In other words, no theater, no fun. And what are politicians without their hearings and political “fun?” That means we will likely start passing budgets and budgets that receive true scrutiny, if only so they can get to the fun part of picking it all apart!
Like many conservatives, I’ve had my fill of Republican leaders who have enjoyed too many years in the rarified air of Washington. But Isakson is a far cry from that bunch. He was a real live businessman for decades, actually lives in the same suburban house in which he raised his now grown children and still goes to the same church where he taught Bible school for years with the same wife he married long ago. In other words, he is the real deal.
This past week, for the first time in 12 years, I received not one negative comment to one of my columns. My plea was to put the “United” back in “The United States of America.” But one reader, while supportive of the column, noted that I failed to give a positive proposal upon which we could unite.
He was right; I did not. But Sen. Johnny Isakson, a conservative Republican who was GOP before it was cool, has, along with a Democrat co-sponsor (FYI folks — you have to have one of them when they are in control) has done just that. Let’s end this annual madness and start to treat our budgeting process with the same process that so many states have adopted and, in doing so, end this annual “crisis mentality” used by devious politicians. That’s something we can all unite around.
Matt Towery is author of the book “Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency.” He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.