In the fights over the fiscal cliff and now the debt ceiling, many conservatives were adamant: Republicans should reach an agreement with President Obama only in exchange for serious cuts in entitlement spending. It is the entitlements — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security — that will drive future deficits, the conservatives argued, and without real cuts, the nation’s debt will spiral out of control in the not-too-distant future.
Some Republican lawmakers have been stressing that point for weeks and demanding that the president agree to “real cuts” before any deal could be struck. But what has emerged from the House GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that Republicans did not have an entitlement-cutting proposal to present to Obama in debt-ceiling talks, had the president ever agreed to negotiate with them. The talk about big entitlement cuts, at least in connection with a debt-ceiling agreement, was mostly talk.
Now, by deciding to pass a short-term debt-limit bill, and at the same time demand that Democrats pass a budget — something Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not allowed in nearly four years — Republicans have sidestepped the entitlement issue altogether, at least for a while. That might have been the GOP’s only option, since it had not agreed on an entitlement-cutting proposal.