Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The real issue is runaway spending

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 9:44 AM EST, Thu January 3, 2013
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
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT