WASHINGTON – Tired of the excruciating debate in Washington over the nation’s budget, the debt ceiling, and the deficit? Sick of the government shutdown, of a Congress that stumbles, again and again, into cliffhanger moments that threaten economic calamity?
Get used to it.
The deal Congress edged toward approving Wednesday night to avoid defaulting on the national debt and reopen government agencies would set up three new deadlines in December, January, and February that present the possibility of fresh crises, including threats of another shutdown and another debt default.
It means that for all the talk of tectonic battles and doomsday scenarios, the decisions this week will not be the end of the debate. It will instead mark the continuation of a drawn out process that forces the nation – from Wall Street stock traders to average heartland constituents – to endure similar fights in a matter of weeks.
As the current chapter lurched to a close, the reaction was not so much relief as despair and anger over the state of things in Washington.
“Lack of leadership. Unwillingness to face reality,” Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, said in an interview. “A lot of us governors who were elected in 2010 faced similar budget problems. But we had the courage to make the decisions right up front.”
The most recent crisis was instigated largely by Tea Party-backed Republicans who insisted that the government not be funded unless President Obama’s health care law was delayed or defunded. Party leaders opposed the strategy, predicting that it would not work and likely backfire. They were right. It failed miserably. Republicans were unable to extract any concessions from Obama on his signature legislation.
Some moderate voices in the GOP are now optimistic arch-conservatives will begin to listen to the party’s wiser, cooler hands—and be more open to compromise as pressure builds to cut long-lasting fiscal deals.
“Hopefully having inflicted this much self-torture on themselves, they will be able to do it now,” said Judd Gregg, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire. “Maybe we had to go through this process to show people [hard-line Republicans] weren’t interested in governing. They were only interested in their own cults. They basically cost us a lot of credibility in reducing the deficit and debt.”
That may be wishful thinking. Conservatives emerged unrepentant from this week’s House defeat and vowed to continue their fight—against both Democrats and their own party leaders.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group that aims to elect conservative Republicans, sent out an email this week to supporters blasting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for “negotiating the Republican surrender” with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“He would rather concede to the Democrats than fight them,” Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, wrote in the email. “He would rather fund Obamacare than admit conservatives were right.”
That helps define the political atmosphere in which the House and Senate Republicans will find themselves as the current crisis winds down and the next series of events looms. Under the Senate deal, the government, in its 16th day of shutdown on Wednesday, would be reopened and funded until Jan. 15.
The debt ceiling, which allows the US treasury to borrow money to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized, would be raised to permit new bond issues until Feb. 7. There would also be a separate budget conference committee that would deal with longer term spending issues. It would be required to deliver recommendations by mid-December.
That committee, made up of House and Senate members, is eerliy reminiscent of the so-called Super Committee that was formed in 2011 to solve similar problems. When that committee failed to broker a compromise, it triggered deep, automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.
Indeed, the track record of this Congress suggests any far-reaching budget deal will prove elusive, with such efforts failing to produce major action in August 2011, which was the last debt-ceiling crisis, and again at the end of 2012, the so-called ``fiscal cliff.’’ Reining in spending on Medicare and Social Security, tax reform, and reducing deficits—all issues that have certain measures of bipartisan support—remain unresolved.
“We’re going from crisis to crisis, treating the symptoms but not treating the disease,” said David Walker, a former US comptroller who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Continued...