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With his dramatic plans to restructure Wall Street and Detroit, overhaul health care and create a clean-energy economy, Obama is certainly taking political risks, even if he hasn't gotten around to replacing the almighty dollar with some new, one-world currency the black-helicopter crowd keeps warning about. But it's not clear that the Republicans in their current incarnation would be a credible alternative if he falters. "We've got to be at least plausible, and I worry about that," says GOP lobbyist Ed Rogers. Republicans never really left the idea business, but Americans haven't been buying what they're selling, and their product line hasn't changed. They're starting to look like the Federalists of the early 19th century: an embittered, over-the-top, out-of-touch regional party en route to extinction, doubling down on dogma the electorate has already rejected. Our two-party system encourages periodic pendulum swings, but given current trends, it's easy to imagine a third party in the U.S.
At this rate, it could be the Republican Party.
"What Have We Got to Lose?"
House Republicans, eager to shed the Party of No label, recently unveiled an alternative to Obama's 2010 budget. It was the kind of fiasco that shows why Washington thinks Republicans are in trouble--and why they really are in trouble.
The disaster began when GOP leaders, after calling a news conference to blast Obama's numbers, released a budget outline with no numbers--just magic assumptions about "reform." The mockery was instantaneous. Then Republicans began blaming one another for the stunt, which generated only more mockery about circular firing squads. And when they finally released the missing details on April 1, the notion of an April Fools' budget produced even more mockery; the substance was ignored. "The President's dog got more attention," recalls Paul Ryan, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee.
But if you pay attention, the GOP alternative is not just a p.r. disaster. It's a radical document, making Bush's tax cuts permanent while adding about $3 trillion in new tax cuts skewed toward the rich. It would replace almost all the stimulus--including tax cuts for workers as well as spending on schools, infrastructure and clean energy--with a capital gains--tax holiday for investors. Oh, and it would shrink the budget by replacing Medicare with vouchers, turning Medicaid into block grants, means-testing Social Security and freezing everything else except defense and veterans' spending for five years, putting programs for food safety, financial regulation, flu vaccines and every other sacred government cow on the potential chopping block.
Ryan is one of the smart, young, telegenic policy wonks who have been hailed as the GOP's future, and his budget includes relatively few the-Lord-shall-provide accounting gimmicks by D.C. standards. He knows its potential cuts could sound nasty in a 30-second ad, but he wants Republicans to stop running away from limited-government principles. "We've got to stop being afraid of the politics," he says. "At this point, what have we got to lose?"