Two days, not that we're counting

Appropriators score, Super Committee tries not to fumble.

One Step Forward — Conferees for legislation that combined three of the twelve Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bills (“Minibus 1”) have reached an agreement.  HR 2112 passed both the House and Senate, and President Obama has signed it.  The bill also includes a ‘clean’ Continuing Resolution providing extra time for Congress to pass the remaining 2012 spending legislation (new deadline: December 16).  It all seems so civilized and normal:  business as usual, the way it used to be!

This agreement was brought to you by a compromise. You may recall that the House approved H.R. 1, the Ryan budget, for FY 2012, which included a lower spending ceiling for the year than both houses later approved in the Budget Control Act. Some House members had insisted that the House stick to the lower spending ceiling, but those voices didn’t prevail.

APA has kept a close eye on this bill because it includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The agreement would give NSF a scant $173 million increase, but that’s certainly better than flat funding, and must be counted as a step forward if not quite a ‘win.’

Super Committee Struggles — By now you may have seen the stopwatch-style counter on the front page of The Washington Post  — counting down the days, hours and minutes til the deadline. The Super Committee deadline to report $1.2 trillion in budget savings, or trigger $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense accounts, is November 23.  Some observers predict that the Supers will fail to reach agreement by the deadline because this time there’s no looming financial disaster to put teeth in the deadline.

There has been movement in the determination of the House and Senate Republican caucuses to raise no taxes and let no deductions expire. Super Committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who has quite solid conservative credentials, even if he is being roundly denounced by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, proposed a deal that would include some $300 billion in ‘revenue enhancements.’ Democrats, while applauding the step toward compromise, have not leaped to endorse the Toomey plan because, among other reasons, it would extend the Bush tax cuts on upper income earners. Many Republicans do not support Sen. Toomey’s proposal either, because of the revenue provisions. We call it another step forward, still not a win.

Can they just change their mind? “Oops?” — If the Super Committee does not act by the deadline, the smart money predicts Congress will fail to approve another debt-reduction deal until after the November 2012 elections. That’s when the Budget Control Act hammer is set to fall: Congress will face the prospect of not only unprecedented cuts to defense accounts and other agency budgets, but also the expiration of all of the Bush-era tax cuts — an outcome that would raise taxes for virtually every American in January, 2013. Of course there is also talk that Congress could choose to pass new legislation that would negate the trigger mechanism requirement of the Budget Control Act (the provision requiring across-the-board cuts).  But given how many Members of Congress praised the Budget Control Act, noting how Congress needed to build in snares and deadlines to avoid its tendency to ‘weasel out’ of tough decisions, that would seem to be an embarrassing outcome, especially for the Republican leadership. 

We at your blog think it’s too early to assume failure. Congress is a ‘last-minute’ decision-maker. There are two days to go! Absolutely anything could happen in two days.