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I'm willing to bet that most of you -- part of a readership that is far more interested in the federal budget than any group of typical Americans -- didn't know that the deficit was significantly lower in fiscal 2013 than it was in 2012.
For the record, the Treasury reported a little over a week ago that the 2013 deficit was $680 billion, a 38 percent drop from the approximately $1.1 trillion deficit in 2012 and 48 percent less than the $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009.
The 2013 deficit was 4.1 percent of GDP, the smallest since 2008. Fiscal 2013 was the fourth consecutive year the deficit has fallen as a percent of GDP. And the 4.1 percent-of-GDP deficit was almost a third less than the 6.0 percent that had been projected when the White House submitted its fiscal 2014 budget to Congress less than 6 months ago.
House and Senate budget conferees will formally get together again this week. This will be their first meeting since the ceremonial opening session on October 30 featured nothing more than politically self-serving opening statements,
Expect nothing to happen at this meeting...unless you believe that a further hardening of the positions each side stated at the last meeting represents something happening. it's simply too early in the process for anyone to offer a concession of any kind. The meeting will also be way too public for anything like a serious discussion, let alone an actual negotiation, to take place.
As I've said before, a budget conference committee of 29 representatives and senators is so unlikely to be able to agree on anything that, unless they want to go hungry, they had better delegate to a single staffer the authority to decide what to order for lunch. That's especially true if the lunch discussion takes place in an open hearing where CSPAN and others are broadcasting the deliberations.
Expecting little to happen should be the mantra for everyone following the budget events scheduled for the next few months.
Appropriators have hated the Congressional Budget Act since even before it was enacted in 1974.
During the two years in which that act was drafted, revised, re-revised, debated, re-debated and eventually adopted, appropriators from both houses complained that it wasn't needed, that they already had the power of the purse that was being given to the budget committees, that they had been the stewards of the people's money since the beginning of the republic, that it infringed on their jurisdiction and that it wouldn't work.
That attitude has barely changed over the past almost 40 years, which is why it was hardly a shock when my friend Jim Dyer, former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, emailed me last week to say that it was time to do away with the budget act. With Jim's permission, here's the exact quote from his email:
As I posted yesterday, House and Senate budget conferees will meet for the first time this week as they begin a process that has a built-in December 13 deadline. It's either budget agreement by that Friday the 13th or bust.
Bust is far more likely. Here's why.
1. There is no agreement about the problem. Almost all previous successfully concluded budget deals have been based on at least a tacit up front agreement about what the two sides are trying to accomplish. Without that this time, Republicans and Democrats will spend a great deal -- maybe even most -- of their time arguing about what they should be debating rather than the possible answers.
2. There's no need for a deal #1. This is not a situation where the political or economic world will collapse if a deal doesn't get done. The debt ceiling has already been raised, taxes won't be raised automatically, the government won't shut down, Wall Street isn't threatening higher interest rates if there's no deal to reduce the deficit, etc.
The speculation about what the conference committee -- the 29-person House-Senate committee that has until December 13 to negotiate a budget deal and which will meet for the first time this Wednesday -- will do will be intense all this week.
In fact, if history is any indication, every interest group in town will be so certain that the one thing it most cares about will be given away in the opening session that it will denounce what the conference committee does even before the first meeting begins.
And pundits across the political spectrum will be predicting that the conference committee will defy expectations and a big budget deal of some kind not only is possible but actually likely.
The technical term for all of this is B.S. (and I don't mean "Bachelor of Science").
The meeting on Wednesday is just the opening session. The 29 members of the conference committee won't do anything other than preen for the cameras and give 5-minute opening statements. 29x5 = almost two and a half hours of vapid oral essays that will have no bearing at all on the deliberations.
I have far less hope for the post-shutdown talks that are about to get underway than many of the others who follow, analyze, comment and report on federal budget doings.
Actually, I am astounded at how quickly so many people who should know better seem to have forgotten the insanity of the past few years that led to the total craziness of the past few weeks and have decided there are no lessons to be learned from what happened.
Here's what I've learned.
It's nice to see that some members of Congress, especially some Republicans, have already rejected another showdown when the current continuing resolution expire and debt ceiling expire. It's important to note, however, that the representatives and senators who have said this are not the ones who will determine whether it happens again. Until tea partiers in both houses say a shutdown and debt ceiling fight isn't going to happen, the threat has to be considered a real possibility.
Some quick thoughts this morning:
1. It's still no better than 50-50 ("a coin flip" as @thefix said to me on Washington Post TV last week) that the debt ceiling will be raised by October 17, the date Treasury says it will run out of the ability to use "extraordinary measures" and the government will have to operate just from the cash it has on hand every day.
2. If anything the situation has gotten worse rather than better over the past few days with House Republicans in open warfare against their GOP Senate colleagues. It appears that House Republicans need to get something out of the box the are in with the government shutdown and debt ceiling even if it means extracting a pound of political flesh from their own party to do it.
3. Let me say this yet again as directly as possible: John Boehner (R-OH) is the weakest and least effective speaker in my lifetime, and he may come close to taking the all-time title.