Having averted a government shutdown at the last moment Friday night, most of Washington is breathing easier this week as Congress puts the finishing touches on the $38.5 billion in spending cuts agreed to in the deal. But not everyone is happy about the outcome -- and that could have serious implications in the much bigger struggle about to come over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling.
During the fight just concluded over this year's budget, those agitating most aggressively to shut the government down were often portrayed as wild-eyed Tea Party freshmen bent on sowing discord and making puppets of the GOP leadership. But that misconstrued both the identity of most of the aggressors and the larger purpose in what they were trying to do.
To begin with, most of them aren't freshmen. Only 21 of the 54 members who opposed the last continuing resolution -- the interim spending bill -- were new to Congress. The majority were veteran conservative lawmakers. And they weren't driven by recklessness or anger, so much as by a strategic imperative to exploit what they believe is a fleeting but historical opportunity: They interpret last November's election results as having been a clear expression of the country's desire to cut back the size of government -- a desire that wasn't adequately reflected in the cuts on the table.
Everyone in Washington agreed that shutting down the government would cause an uproar. Most people expected that it would be the Republicans who bore the most blame. But these conservatives believed exactly the opposite: that a shutdown would prompt frustrated Americans to demand much larger cuts. This in turn would give conservatives momentum and leverage not just on the current budget, but in the upcoming negotiations to raise the debt ceiling and reform entitlements.