The latest development in the never-ending soap opera of congressional budget negotiations is that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are close to reaching a limited deal to partially replace spending cuts imposed earlier this year (the much-maligned sequestration). The details of the deal are not known, but that hasn't stopped conservative activist groups and pundits from denouncing Ryan -- a long-time conservative hero for his austere budget proposals -- as a sellout.
The Washington Post laid out what little is known about the emerging deal:
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.
Salon's Brian Beutler notes that if the deal ends up looking like this rough outline, then there's no real reason for conservatives to be all that upset: “If inked, it wouldn't raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration's most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers.”
And yet, the outcry from activists was swift. Groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks are urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the budget deal, even though they don't know what the deal actually looks like.
Appearing on Fox News on December 10, Stuart Varney trashed the deal, calling it “a handshake deal. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the basic problems which we're facing. It does not tackle entitlement reform, it does not tackle tax reform, and it does nothing to drastically reduce the debt.”
Conservative commentators took it a step further, accusing Ryan of betraying conservative principles. “If Paul Ryan were a Peanuts character, he'd be the guy who pulls the football out of the way just as he himself is about to kick it,” wrote RedState's Erick Erickson on December 10. “Based on what has been reported so far, the Ryan-Murray plan seems like outright capitulation to the big spending, big government agenda of both parties' lobbyist class.”
Erickson followed up with a bizarre harangue at “all the kids in the press corps” who pointed out that groups like Heritage Action are opposing a budget deal that no one has actually seen yet. “It's as if they got off the record briefings from someone who threw out that talking point and told them to fly away with it.”
A separate post on RedState argued that “the sequester is already the law of the land, yet Paul Ryan has agreed to abolish the sequester for 2014 and 2015.” That post was aggregated at radio host Laura Ingraham's website under the headline: “How we are being sold out by Paul Ryan.”
At Hot Air, Kevin Glass wrote that “Paul Ryan would deal a massive blow to his own credibility as a deficit hawk if he lends his name to a budget full of gimmicks and illusory savings. It's becoming more likely that the shape of this budget will be less about actually putting legislation into place and more about political posturing.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's in-house conservative blogger, is lashing out at groups like Heritage Action for their knee-jerk opposition to the reported budget deal: “My inbox is full of e-mails from them and their pet candidates (who cut and paste the same anti-budget deal argument) decrying a deal that doesn't yet exist. That tells you all you need to know about these groups. They say they are operating off of news reports -- that would be the dreaded main stream [sic] media from which they now take direction. Puleez.”