The debt ceiling fight currently being waged in Washington will have a major impact on the 2012 elections, because it's presenting a clear contrast between the Republican and Democratic parties - something that rarely happens.
Republicans have skillfully used this moment to push fundamental budget reform uphill. The forces of the status quo, who have gotten fat and happy from federal spending levels of 24 percent of gross domestic product, are violently resisting the overspending straitjacket that the Cut, Cap, Balance plan represents.
It would be very easy for Republicans to wash their hands of a president who is biologically incapable of leading. If a speech or a lecture were necessary, he would be the most qualified person in the world for the task. But alas, what is needed in the White House is a statesman, a negotiator, a legislator. What is needed is trustworthiness and commitment, not hope and change.
But conservatives and the more than 180 groups who make up the Cut, Cap, Balance Coalition (for whom, in full disclosure, I have consulted) have driven this political battle from the very beginning. Now, as it nears some kind of conclusion, it's important to consider the ramifications it will have on policy and politics.
Several courageous leaders in Congress, like Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congressmen Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Joe Walsh (R-IL), have consistently put the next generation ahead of the next election. Republicans aren't stupid - they know that if they simply increased the debt limit and maybe made Democrats vote against a reasonable plan to cut and restrict spending, it would redound to their political benefit next November. As a result, they'd likely maintain a majority in the House, take back the Senate and perhaps win the White House. But these conservative leaders have said winning an election is not enough. They're worried about the country's future.
The last three elections (2006, 2008 and 2010) were wave elections - which is unusual. Four consecutive wave elections would be even more unusual.
But, it's possible.
In order for Republicans to create the circumstances for a fourth consecutive wave election, they should:
1) Hold firm on Cut, Cap, Balance: On Friday, the Cut, Cap, Balance bill came four votes short in the Senate after easily passing in the House. A CNN poll released last week showed that 66 percent of the American people support it. It is currently the only plan that has passed either house. It could be slightly amended to increase the chances that it could pass in the Senate.
2) Force votes on the balanced-budget amendment (BBA) in both houses before Aug. 2: These votes should occur as late as possible, to encourage maximum public pressure. To become law, the BBA will have to get two-thirds support in both houses of Congress (290 votes in the House, 67 votes in Senate) and get ratified by three-fourths of the states. That's hard but not impossible. In the 1990s, the BBA came just one vote short in the Senate from being sent to the states.
The policy benefits of Cut, Cap, Balance are unmistakable. The Cut, Cap, Balance plan reduces spending in the short term, caps spending in the medium term (over 10 years) and then over the long term requires a balanced budget, to be implemented in about seven years. It is the only plan that will protect America's AAA bond rating and actually solve the problem.
The political benefits of holding firm to Cut, Cap, Balance and forcing votes on a BBA will be significant. More than 70 percent of Americans want a BBA and 49 states have one type of balanced-budget requirement or another. Have you heard a Democrat explain why he or she opposes the BBA? Their explanation is unintelligible gibberish. They mumble something about how it is the responsibility of Congress to do it. That's the problem. Congress has been irresponsible for the last 12 years. Irresponsible people do not choose to be responsible - you must give them no choice.
Imagine the power of the debate on a balanced budget playing out in all 50 states, with many states voting in November 2012. Would statewide and local Democratic candidates oppose a 70 percent issue? They would at their peril.
President Obama and congressional Democrats are scared to death of having their spending power checked. They don't trust the voters to decide.
One way or another - either through a BBA or in the likely wave election of 2012 - the voters will decide.
Matt Mackowiak is a Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He can be reached at email@example.com.