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House Freedom Caucus Kamikazes Can't Win by Shutting Down the Government

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The radical conservative House Freedom Caucus has shown itself to be one of the few groups in or out of Congress willing to tackle the national debt crisis and the budget deficit crisis. But as we saw with the debt limit debate, their ideas don’t have any chance of passing and only make it harder to achieve fiscal sanity.

Congress is going to come up short of passing all 13 appropriations bills by the Sept. 30 deadline. That means that to keep the government running, a continuing resolution or a stopgap funding bill will have to be passed.

The Freedom Caucus has issued a series of draconian “demands” that are guaranteed to blow up the negotiations on the spending bill and attempt to shut the government down, either partially or totally.

The demands include a sweeping GOP border bill that has stalled in the Senate, addressing “the unprecedented weaponization” of the Justice Department and FBI, and ending “woke” Defense Department policies. The group also said it would oppose a “blank check” for Ukraine.

But the key is that the Caucus wants to enforce the spending limits it rammed through the House at the beginning of the year: a topline spending level of $1.471 trillion on discretionary spending. What they’re demanding would absolutely gut domestic spending priorities. Not only would the Democrats balk at these cuts but outside the 50 or so members of the Freedom Caucus, Republicans would turn up their noses too.

Related: House Freedom Caucus Issues Demands in Return for Continued Spending

The Caucus is demanding far bigger cuts in a far shorter time than is possible without causing huge dislocations in the labor force, vital education programs, needed food programs, health programs, and other government assistance.

The cuts being demanded are radical — unnecessarily so. What the Freedom Caucus and other budget hawks are going to have to face is the fact that it has taken 75 years to get into the fiscal and debt predicament we find ourselves in. It’s going to take decades of patient, intelligent budget cuts to dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in without destroying people’s lives and blowing up the economy.

You just can’t yank $750 billion dollars in government spending — the amount the Freedom Caucus proposes being cut — out of the economy without massive consequences. In 2008 when half that amount disappeared from the economy in a massive Wall Street sell-off and housing bust, the economy nearly imploded.

The Freedom Caucus believes we’re in an existential crisis because of our spending. That may be true. But it’s not a hair-on-fire crisis that demands immediate, radical action. We can still reverse the spending momentum without destroying the fabric of civil society, which is what the Freedom Caucus proposed actions would do.

The fantasy that we can “balance the budget” in five or ten years is not possible without huge tax increases. Taking decades to deal with our spending crisis will allow for minimal tax increases and strong economic growth.

It’s easy to forget that attached to each of those federal dollars is a human being. Many millions of lives depend on those dollars reaching those who need it — food, shelter, healthcare, not to mention roads and bridges.

We are a great, big, grown-up industrialized nation of 330 million people. But the Freedom Caucus is acting as if we’re a coastal enclave of 4 million people as we were in 1790. That may be something of an exaggeration, but judging by the “demands” they’re making not to cause a government shutdown next month, it’s not too far off.

I despise radicalism from the left or the right. And the House Freedom Caucus is as radical as any group on the right. What makes them especially radical is their refusal to take responsibility for their actions. They have no intention of governing. They don’t want the headaches. Furthermore, they’re perfectly content to sit on the sidelines and throw rocks at the GOP leadership rather than doing the scut work necessary to help govern this great nation.

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