StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

This Year's Budget Fight Isn't About The Budget

16 Sep 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

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.

But none of these admittedly depressing factors are what makes this year's budget cliffhanger so difficult. This year the biggest complication is that the budget fight isn't really about the budget: It's about ObamaCare, and that makes it hard to see what kind of arrangement will garner enough votes to avoid the kind of shutdown and debt ceiling disasters that have been only narrowly averted the past few years.

It's one thing if the debate is just about coming up with a spending cap or deficit limit. If, for example, one side wants spending at $20 and the other wants $10, there should be some number between those two that eventually will make a deal possible.

But what happens when, like now, the budget is the legislative vehicle but the real debate is over something else entirely? What that happens, there is no number that will satisfy everyone in the debate and the budget process -- which is designed to compromise numbers rather than policy -- becomes an incredibly in effective way to negotiate.

That's when all of the other factors I noted above kick in. If the budget process can't be used to settle the debate, an ad hoc negotiation between the leaders is needed. But in the current political environment it's not at all clear who has the authority to negotiate let alone who has the ability to convince his or her colleagues that a deal deserves to be supported. And that's if a deal of some kind is even possible.

This is a far cry from the situation that existed in 1995-96 when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich could negotiate with each other with the confidence that their respective political parties would support whatever deal they cut.

Add the fact that there's little time to negotiate -- the first potential government shutdown is just two weeks from today -- and you get a budget debate that may well be the most difficult and unpredictable yet, and that's saying a great deal given what we've already been through the past five years.

I appreciate your sharing

I appreciate your sharing from your experience. We cannot even predict how unpredictable this Congress may be!

Dysfunctional Congress

A country as large and powerful as the US deserves a competent government. Many Congressmen want to tear down many government functions, they don't want to solve the nation's problems. They are funded and supported by Malefactors of Great Wealth who want low taxes and cheap labor, no matter how much it impoverishes the rest of us. The American people deserve better.

Something will give

There will be some sort of 11th hour agreement to a temporary fix to kick the can down the road for another couple of months, just as there always has been.

The GOP has tried to repeal the ACA 40+ times over the past 2 or so years, and failed every single time. With only 2 weeks before the CR expires and another 2 weeks after that until the debt ceiling is breached, there isn't enough time for a grand bargain type deal and defunding Obamacare is a complete non-starter. It'll be another last minute patch.

A silver lining

Over the weekend I listened to a GOP Congressman talking about the major negotiation that is going to occur over raising the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, Obama has stated flatly that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. Let's hope that Obama does not budge from that position. Allowing a minority of legislators to get their way by threatening to blow up the economy would, as Obama noted, change the constitutional structure of government.

Republicans appear to be headed toward a major crack-up. The Tea Party is an anarchist faction. One definition of anarchy (as per Websters) is "a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government," and that juvenile notion probably is what the Tea party has in mind. But the real outcome of anarchy is, again as per Websters, "a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority."

The grownups in the GOP have been unwilling to reign in the children ever since watching people like Utah Senator Bob Bennett be defeated by the likes of Mike Lee. What happens over the next few months will determine the future of the GOP. Either the grownups will assert control by passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling, or they will hand over the keys to the children and allow them to destroy the economy. The latter course would destroy the GOP for at least a generation. The elderly people wearing tricorn hats and blathering on about the "death of freedom" are going to be upset when their Social Security checks don't arrive.

Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. A government shutdown and a debt default may be what is necessary to end the Tea Party madness and return the U.S. to normal governance.

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