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This is being written less than 10 full days before the start of the new fiscal year. Four of these days occur over a weekend.
As I said in my previous post, none of the individual appropriations for fiscal 2014 have yet been enacted and none have any chance of being enacted.
The House earlier today passed a continuing resolution that, in theory would keep the government funded until December 15 and, therefore, avoid a shutdown. But the bill includes a poison pill -- defunding Obamacare -- that Senate Democrats and the White House say they absolutely won't accept in any form.
As a result, barely a week before the fiscal year begins, the process for avoiding a government shutdown has barely moved from the situation that existed a week, a month, and six months ago. Because of that, a shutdown has to be considered more likely now than it was when this week started.
There are many reasons why the budget fight that will take pace over the next few weeks and months will be more difficult than any of the close-to-debacles that have occurred in recent years.
The reasons include John Boehner (R-OH), who was already the weakest and least effective House speaker in modern times, being even weaker; a president with what at best is tepid support from his own party in Congress; an increasingly frustrated tea party wing of the GOP that no longer sees procedural compromises as satisfying; increasingly defiant House Democrats, who see less and less value in supplying votes to enact must-pass legislation when the Republican majority is unable to do it; and a seemingly hopeless split in the House GOP that makes further spending reductions, standing pat at current levels or spending increases impossible.
Add to this "crisis fatigue." So many actual or man-made economic and financial disasters have occurred in recent years that the kinds of things that used to scare Congress and the White House into compromising -- like possible federal defaults and government shutdowns -- no longer motivate them to act.
It wasn't too long yesterday after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his support for the president's position on Syria that the blogosphere erupted with speculation that the White House had cut a deal. Boehner, it was said, had quickly signed on to U.S. military action against Syria in exchange for the White House moving closer to the GOP position on the upcoming battles on the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and sequestration, that is, on #cliffgate.
The two issues are so separate, the White House and congressional Republicans are so far apart on everything having to do with the budget, Boehner's and Obama's ability to deliver their respective party's votes on spending and revenues so doubtful and Boehner's and the president's history of negotiating so poor that it's virtually impossible to imagine how the administration and the speaker could possibly have come to any agreement on Syria and #cliffgate so quickly.
There will be only 9 legislative days before fiscal 2014 starts on October 1. Approximately 15 calendar (but no more than 10 legislative) days later, the Treasury says the government will not have the cash it needs to pay all its bills. At that point either the federal debt ceiling will have to be raised so the government may borrow more or a technical or actual default will occur.
Yes...The headline on this post is inflammatory and intended to attract eyeballs, visitors and clicks.
It's also totally accurate.
I'm posting this is because of this editorial in today's The New York Times that is both absolutely correct and incredibly naive when it comes to federal spending on natural disasters.
Here's the money quote:
Two weeks or so ago I posted that this fall's (and winter's) budget debate could best be described as "budget bedlam."
I was wrong.
Since that post the situation has taken a turn for the worse and "bedlam," which sounds more like a Marx Bothers, Mack Sennett, or Three Stooges movie than a political event, may no longer be appropriate.
I'm using a new phrase -- Fiscal Fiasco -- to describe what could be ahead.
What's changed? House and Senate Republicans are now threatening to use the debt ceiling increase that will be needed by the middle of November rather than the continuing resolution that will be needed by October 1 to make yet another stand on Obamacare.
This is more than just a timing shift for the fight: It actually significantly changes the probability that something economically disastrous could result.
I've referred back to this post so many times since it first went up more than two years ago that I almost have to apologize for doing it again.
Almost, but not really, and especially not this time.
For those who are new to CG&G (or who have blocked out any memory of that post for your own reasons), in early 2011 I was the first speaker at the first meeting of the House tea party caucus.
I was invited by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to speak about the coming debt ceiling fight because of a column I had written (and she misread) for Roll Call. I spoke first but was asked to stay for the rest of the meeting when the tea party chairs from Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia told (actually...screamed at would be a better description) the 20 or so representatives who were there what they wanted from them in that session of Congress.
Number one on their wish list was -- and this is an exact quote -- "defund Obamacare."
August actually is a pretty good time to be in Washington.
Yes, the weather usually is awful. But with Congress gone, getting to work isn't as stressful because there's less demand on roads and public transit. You can get up later and still get to work on time.
And...of course...there's daily upbeat news from the Redskins' training camp.
I saw and felt all of this almost immediately on Friday when the House followed the Senate out of town for a five-week recess. Traffic was indeed lighter than usual, getting a table at my family's favorite local Italian bistro wasn't a problem and RGIII was interviewed on all of the local channels. Good times for sure.
But the usual sense of dramatically less stress that typically takes place at the same time didn't happen. Instead of talking about vacation plans, the standard topic of conversation all weekend was about what's going to happen when Congress comes back.
As a federal budget wonk, I was especially and repeatedly put on the spot by friends, reporters and clients about what's going to happen after Labor Day.
Norm Ornstein is a long-time (as in decades) friend.
He's also one of the foremost congressional experts/scholars/pundits in U.S. history. So when he writes to say that this CG&G post from last week about Republicans in Congress is "excellent," I want to tell the world about it.
More important is that Norm's note reminded me to link to his recent article in The Atlantic about how the only way to understand what's happening in the GOP these days in to realize that there are actually five Republican parties rather than one and the five don't get along.
Let me return the favor: Norm's piece is excellent and worth a few minutes of your time.