Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The real issue is runaway spending

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
January 3, 2013 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
House Speaker John Boehner walks out after a second meeting with House Republicans January 1 over the fiscal cliff deal.
House Speaker John Boehner walks out after a second meeting with House Republicans January 1 over the fiscal cliff deal.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Senate and House Republicans are warring over fiscal policy
  • Navarrette: Senate GOP offered a Band-Aid for fiscal cliff; House GOP wanted to treat the wound
  • He says the House GOP is on the right track in trying to cut back federal spending
  • Boehner's role as speaker could be damaged by his vote on fiscal deal, he says

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Did Senate Republicans have too much bubbly on New Year's Eve and pass a bill to avert the fiscal cliff that some in the GOP insist includes too much in new taxes without cutting spending? Are House Republicans so stubborn in their pursuit of spending cuts that they're ready to go to war with members of their own party?

In trying to avoid the fiscal cliff, House and Senate Republicans put the Grand Ole Party -- and the country -- on the brink of a political one.

It's never good for party unity when a House lawmaker jokes that his Senate colleagues passed a late-night measure because of "partying and revelry and drinking" in the wee hours. Yet, that's what California representative and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said in an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room." When Wolf Blitzer asked Issa if he was suggesting that Senate Republicans were drunk when they voted, Issa backtracked and said: "Of course not. I was just having a little fun with you, Wolf."

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

That's hilarious. This guy must be the life of the party. But the rest of us still have to wonder whether, after the raucous fiscal cliff negotiations, his party has any life left in it.

Politics: Debt debate starts now

The House adjourned on Monday without voting on a bill to avoid the automatic tax hikes and deep spending cuts set to take place that midnight. The Senate burned the midnight oil and passed -- by a vote of 89 to 8 -- an emergency bill with more than $600 billion in new revenue over 10 years. The legislation also allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for families making more than $450,000 annually.

On New Year's Day, House Republicans struck back and rejected the Senate bill as insufficient in its spending cuts. Only 85 Republicans voted in favor, while 151 voted against. With plenty of Democratic support, the measure passed. But it was over the objections of most House Republicans, who will surely fight for more cuts in spending during the fast-approaching debt ceiling negotiations.

Boehner to Reid: Go 'f' yourself
Focus needs to be on avoiding downgrades
U.S. Congress - a self-inflicted wound

The bigger drama is still playing out. We're seeing a civil war between Republicans, although at this point you really can't call it "civil."

This is not a simple difference of opinion that can be papered over by inserting a few paragraphs into a bill. This is about different visions for what Republicans think their role should be when they're out of power.

Speaking of power, House Speaker John Boehner appears to be fresh out. After failing to get enough support from those in his own party for an alternative plan in the House, Boehner wound up going "all in" on passing a bill. He must have thought that his speakership depended on not coming up empty-handed.

Politics: Are the days of Congress 'going big' over? But Boehner might have lost a good deal of the support and confidence of his Republican colleagues. The formal vote on whether to keep him in the speaker's chair is set for Thursday. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just might be biding his time in the wings, after he split from Boehner and voted no on the Senate bill.

Boehner let the pressure get to him.

Just ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is never at a loss for words, and usually the wrong ones. Reid accused of Boehner of running the House of Representatives like a "dictatorship." So when Boehner happened to bump into Reid, a few days before the fiscal cliff deadline, in a hallway of the White House, witnesses say the speaker told the Democratic majority leader to "go f--- yourself." Twice.

It also doesn't help build support or confidence in the speaker that he has proved to be no match for the chess skills of President Barack Obama, who always seems to have a pretty good idea of the opposition's next move. So, when Obama staged a press event on New Year's Eve to press for higher taxes on the wealthy as the House was deliberating, he had to know that the stunt would scuttle the process. That would have sent us over the cliff and ensure that Republicans got the blame. Checkmate.

The trouble is, that's not leadership. It's gamesmanship. On this issue, as with many others, Obama the Master Politician confuses the two.

To avoid the fiscal cliff, Senate Republicans offered a Band-Aid; those in the House wanted to treat the wound.

It would have been no excuse for shirking their duty and not passing a bill, but the Republicans in the lower chamber were on the right track. We have to deal sooner or later with the federal government's runaway spending, but there's no appetite for that in Congress. There never will be.

In fact, for all the talk about whether to raise taxes on the wealthy, the real sticking point in this debate was what to do about spending we can no longer afford -- especially on programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Politics: New congress tackles old leftovers

Lawmakers in both parties, who respect and fear the senior citizen lobby, won't have this conversation. So they would just as soon keep Americans distracted with an argument over who should pay what in taxes.

Don't be taken in. What Americans should really be thinking about at this moment is where all that money is going and whether we can keep paying those bills no matter how high the tax rates soar.

Remember how it works with your own household budget. It's not only how much comes in that matters; just as important is how much goes out.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT