Budget 2013: Political Messaging is Clouding the Substance Of Competing Bills


Republicans and Democrats are maintaining their election season mantras as both chambers have passed competing budget proposals

The two budgets passed are one factual thread in the broad tapestry of political messages coming from both sides. The biggest problem that Republicans face is one they cause themselves. They forget key components of communicating that message and lose sight of what their values should be in proposing the budgets.

Political messaging is a contest at every turn. A strong and persuasive message demonstrates to the public that you have the authority and integrity to lead from the front. All the while, you make every attempt to frame your opponent as politically and morally weak. Persuasive messaging in politics is not a bad thing, mind you. Humans are not machines that simply count numbers and make the most straightforward position of which solution “costs” less. We weigh competing concepts of value as much as anything else, and value is often an intangible concept. Hence, a strong and persuasive message helps to provide an answer to the citizens of what both the cost and value of a particular policy will be.

I’ll make no qualms about it. The House budget proposal is a good strong step in the right direction. Repealing Obamacare is a must, and the House is right to keep reminding the Senate and the president that it is a disastrous policy with no good long term benefit to the American people. Important reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security must happen. Taxation cannot continue to increase unabated, and the Senate budget that increased taxes nearly $1 trillion over 10 years is a horrible way to reform our fiscal mess. We need a budget which lowers taxes, broadens the tax base, and reduces the government’s responsibility for the every-day provisions Americans need. The House budget may not perfectly reach that end, but it is at least a step in the right direction.

However, Republicans now need to wrestle down the bear of selling the value of its budget to the public and not simply rely on the costs to carry the day. This means better detailing of the value of limited government, personal financial and social responsibility, and how economic development is impacted by how the government operates. It also means understanding how this budget and those that come after will demonstrate that value. That is only a first step, but it will go a long way in earning the support of non-partisan voters for this budget of harsh realities. Quite possibly a good number of fiscally conservative voters who find themselves voting Democrat may be willing to lend a supportive hand as well. 

To sell that value, though, Republicans need to make the sell to themselves first. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the budget’s architect, is the biggest disappointment in this regard.  Reviews of his CPAC address were far from stellar. For many Republicans at the grassroots (myself included), the wonky policy man was going to be a breath of fresh air in the presidential race. Instead, he simply fell into the habit of reciting common political idioms on the campaign trail. He demonstrates at a very high level what many Republicans fail to do. The GOP fails to both understand the dynamics of what that rhetoric means to individuals outside of the base. That needs to change.

Republicans have a grand opportunity in front of them right now. The Senate passed a budget. It is a stark difference to what the GOP has passed in the House. The contest of selling the budget to the American voters, and the larger definition of what government is obligated to do, can start now. That Republicans are scratching their heads as to what can be done to reverse the decline in electoral fortunes at a national level should be a concern taken seriously, and the budget debate provides that answer. Here is hoping they find the will to find the way.