Friday, December 6, 2013
By Dan Balz
The Washington Post
The American people have witnessed a dizzying series of legislative maneuvers along with political posturing of a high art over the past few weeks. The fact is that little of it has had anything to do with resolving substantive differences about the federal budget.
Army veteran David Roper of Alexandria, Va., participates in a rally Tuesday at the National World War II Memorial in Washington. The rally was held by the Military Coalition, a group of 33 of the leading veterans and uniformed services organizations.
The Associated Press
From left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., listen to a question during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. The partial government shutdown is in its third week and less than two days before the Treasury Department says it will be unable to borrow and will rely on a cash cushion to pay the country’s bills.
The Associated Press
What the country is watching has become standard operating procedure in Congress. Deadlines near, frantic activity intensifies, demands increase, standoffs occur and then miraculously, or perhaps predictably, there is a resolution – usually a messy one.
But what do those resolutions amount to? They amount to little more than a framework that is supposed to lead to substantive negotiations about the fiscal issues that have divided President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers for years.
Only in Washington would that be considered an accomplishment.
Official Washington is once again in that position, scrambling ahead of another deadline with the country on hold and the economy at risk. But think about what the two sides were talking about Tuesday. In its cleanest form, one piece would fund the government for a relatively short period of time – a matter of months. The second would give the government the power to keep borrowing money until early February.
But even that was proving more difficult than expected because of the inexplicable intervention of House Republican leaders, who disrupted bipartisan negotiations in the Senate that appeared to be headed toward an agreement by deciding to move their own measure – only to realize that they didn’t have enough votes to pass it.
No longer about real issues
By early evening, the House GOP appeared to be in chaos, as rank-and-file members were abandoning the leadership’s latest effort to attach additional provisions to a clean funding bill and a clean debt-ceiling extension.
This is no longer about real issues. It’s about one side determined to claim total victory and the other, which blundered into the fight, looking to find a way to save face. However it ends, the two sides would once again be left to resolve budget differences that long have escaped them.
This downward spiral began with the collapse of the debt-ceiling negotiations two years ago. When Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, were unable to produce the so-called grand bargain, the result was a compromise that set up a process that has been a failure by almost any measure.
That debt-ceiling agreement created a “super committee” whose job was to deal with the substantive differences on issues such as entitlement reform, spending and revenue. The super committee punted and allowed future spending levels to be set by automatic triggers – known as sequestration – that no one really wanted to take effect. Sequestration is now the law of the land and at the heart of what must be resolved – again.
The 2012 campaign interrupted the process of dealing with the country’s fiscal problems and, in the end, the campaign failed to settle differences between the two parties. Republicans and Democrats came out of that election just as divided as when they went into it, with Obama in the White House, Republicans still in control of the House and the two camps listening to different coalitions.
Some progress was made at the end of last year. Facing a critical deadline when George W. Bush-era tax cuts were set to expire, Congress and Obama agreed to leave most of those reductions in place while increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. That fulfilled an Obama campaign promise. But there was no agreement per se on what, if anything, to do about spending levels or entitlement programs.
The current standoff began when Republicans decided to attach one more effort to get rid of Obama’s health care law to a short-term spending bill. Given the Democratic-controlled Senate and Obama in the White House, that was a no-win maneuver. But it escalated far beyond what most people expected.
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Steven Ahrenholz, a furloughed federal worker, protests outside the Department of Health and Human Services CDC offices Tuesday in Cincinnati. The government shutdown is entering its third week. House GOP leaders Tuesday floated a plan to fellow Republicans to counter an emerging Senate deal to reopen the government and forestall an economy-rattling default on U.S. obligations. But the plan got mixed reviews from the rank and file and it was not clear whether it could pass the chamber.
The Associated Press