The Republicans may be learning the political lessons of the Clinton presidency -- advance in increments rather than trying to win the war in a single battle, and make your adversary's most popular slogans your own. By "walling off" Social Security, they're trying to inoculate themselves from Democratic charges that they're raiding the nation's retirement fund, and perhaps even hope to be able to accuse the Democrats of doing the same. "The GOP is extremely worried about being attacked over not saving Social Security," says Carney. "That tied their hands when it came to the idea of using the budget surplus to cut taxes." This year, the GOP has its sights on small victories.
Restoring some order in the Republican tent is the GOP's priority in this season's budget battle. "Republicans are out to prove they can govern," says TIME congressional correspondent James Carney. "The first step is to produce a budget around which a lot of Republicans with competing agendas can unite." The GOP leadership on Thursday announced budget proposals that relinquished plans for a dramatic across-the-board tax cut in favor of a more modest one, at the same time declaring Social Security off-limits for both tax cuts and new government spending. "Last year, Congress's failure to pass a budget signaled disarray in the Republican majority, and they're determined to avoid repeating that," says Carney.