01/07/2011 01:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Not Sweating Breaking Their Budget-Cutting Promise

Prior to taking office, the GOP made a bunch of promises to the American people about what they would do to make everything perfect again. These were firm promises! They wrote them down, in a "Pledge To America." Then they went to a hardware store, one of America's most sacred places, to unveil their promises. And there was one promise so nice that they promised it twice!

Pretty easy to understand: $100 billion of government spending cut in "the first year alone." But, as we've already documented, many of the House GOP's promises have something of a transient nature, and in this case, words seem to have no real meaning. Instead of making $100 billion in cuts, the pledge has been reduced to maybe "$50 to $60 billion." You might be wondering how this broken promise is going to play for the grassroots activists who powered the House GOP to electoral success in November, with the explicit message of getting serious about reducing government spending. Well, Dave Weigel spoke to the guy that gives the grassroots their marching orders, Dick Armey:

The former GOP Majority Leader and the current chairman of FreedomWorks was in the House today, meeting with Republicans, and I happened into him outside the chamber after the reading of the Constitution. I pointed out to Armey that the GOP's Pledge to America promised $100 billion in spending cuts this year, while Republicans are now talking about $50-60 billion in cuts. Was he satisfied with this? Well, yes.

"I believe that because the Democrats have squandered half of this fiscal year," said Armey, "because they didn't complete their work last year, it's realistically correct."

It's kind of weird, because the people who obstructed all that "work" from being "completed" were the same ones making a contemporaneous promise to cut $100 billion at a hardware store.

For more on how immunity-to-promise breaking is systematized, let's go to Matthew Yglesias:

Suppose there's some sellout that John Boehner wants to implement. Boehner recognizes that he needs to pair this with a symbolic but meaningless gesture. Now suppose he sits down in a room with Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Donohue, and David Koch and persuades all three of those people that this is the right way to proceed. Then the next day, Boehner unleashes his symbolic gesture and his compromise, and the coverage of it on Fox News, The Rush Limbaugh Show, and the fox-affiliated radio shows is all positive. That alone gets you the three most popular talk radio shows, the television network, The Weekly Standard, a dose of influence at every single conservative think tank in America, and the important organizing efforts of Americans For Prosperity.

How far is a right-wing challenger going to get with those forces arrayed against him?

Not far. And the basic principles of elite signaling indicate that support among that group will lead to more support. It wouldn't be a smart move for Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney to get on the wrong side of Rush & Fox. Jim DeMint might or might not find it useful to act as a rightwing defector from dealmaking, but he wouldn't actually get anywhere without conservative media to back him. In essence, coordinated action among a very small number of people can cut the oxygen off from the tea party fire any time they want to.

Smash-cut flashback to Armey mansplaining this to Weigel in real time. So ... that's how that's going to work!

Fear The Grasstops Not The Grassroots [Matt Yglesias]
Dick Armey: It's Okay for Republicans to Cut Less Than $100 Billion This Year [Weigel @ Slate]

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