Sunday, May 19, 2013, was one of the saddest and most notorious moments in the sordid history of the federal budget.
Let's start from the beginning.
It's December 2012 and House Republicans are facing a number of politically very difficult and unpalatable choices because taxes will go up automatically on January 1, the sequester will go into effect on January 2 and the by-now- commonplace-but-still-called "extraordinary" measures the Treasury has been using for several months to deal with the problems caused by not raising the debt ceiling are about to be exhausted.
The tax problem was dealt with by agreeing to a smaller increase than was set to happen under current law and then blaming the White House for it. The sequester was postponed until March 1 when both the GOP and the administration thought that the threat of cuts to domestic and military programs, respectively, would cause the other to back down.
But it was the unique and disgraceful way the debt ceiling was handled that deserves the scorn.
There was a time when a $200+ billion reduction in the federal budget deficit would have been big news and hailed as a singular achievement worthy of either fiscal sainthood or a dance-on-the-table party...or both.
Yet yesterday's Congressional Budget Office report showing that the fiscal 2013 federal deficit will be $642 billion, $203 billion less than CBO's previous estimate of $845 billion, did not create any spontaneous cannonizations or celebrations. It also didn't change the still-stalemated and crisis-oriented federal budget debate by even a small amount.
The bottomline: It's in almost no one's interest to be happy about the budget news that should have made everyone happier.
What do you call the effort that will be made in the House of Representatives this week to pass a budget-related bill that will never be enacted, won't work as promised even if it somehow does get signed into law and uses the legislative process for purely political purposes?
"Typical" may be the most common answers. My suggestion? That tried-and-true federal budget phrase so often used to complain about federal spending: "Waste, fraud and abuse."
The legislation is the Full Faith and Credit Act, a bill that supposedly would make payments to federal bond holders the priority if the federal debt ceiling isn't raised and the government doesn't have enough cash to pay all its bills when they come due. The legislation would allow the Treasury to borrow more than allowed by the statutory debt ceiling to make these payments.
Last August and September, I did a series of eight posts about how, contrary to Tea Party and John Boehner assertions, federal spending was actually very popular. As I said at the time, Americans don't want less government; they just want government that costs less.
The latest installment -- episode 9 -- happened last week when the air traffic control problems caused by the sequester were fixed in what by congressional standards was warp speed.
Faced with an immediate backlash from flyers, Congress and the White House enacted legislation that fixed the problems less than a week after the furloughs caused long delays in the skies and long security lines at the airports.
Yes...Flyers are a relatively elite group relative to the population at large. Yes...this is a group that has more influence and a larger megaphone than the average voter. And yes...the delays were easier for the media to cover and so were more visible than sequester-related reductions in other programs.