Time to catch up on federal fiscal policy progress, or lack of it.
The House and Senate won’t return to Washington until Sept. 9. At that point there will be only three short weeks left until the end of fiscal year 2013, by which point Congress must pass some form of spending legislation — a continuing resolution, or CR for short — to keep the government from shutting down.
The possibility of a government shutdown hasn’t loomed since January 2013. That was the most recent point at which Congress and the president were able to reach an agreement on a "fiscal cliff" deal, and it resulted in a projected $600 billion tax increase over 10 years. The Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at the time that he would not negotiate further with President Obama on a budget deal, and that the House majority wouldn’t compromise further on taxes. So as much as your blogger resists mentioning the words "shut down," that consequence must be added to the high stakes brew that Congress and the White House will be mixing during the fall.
The word is that the president himself will stay out of direct negotiations, and that the House and Senate leadership will make a short-term deal, a CR covering two or three months of government spending at the current level, to fund government activities through the end of 2013. (This deal would set up the next round of inconveniently timed high-stakes negotiations. If members of Congress aren’t working during the winter holidays, it must not be 21st century Washington.)
The U.S. Treasury has announced a complication: U.S. borrowing authority will expire around Oct. 15 of this year, a bit earlier than anticipated, and very near the moment when Congress has to pass a CR. Before that announcement, the assumption was that the congressional leadership might be able to produce a no-drama CR, saving the drama for the negotiations to extend the debt limit. Now, negotiations to develop a funding bill and to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit are likely conflated. What sort of drama can we expect? The usual — the House majority would like the Affordable Care Act deleted, defunded and debunked, with a side of additional spending cuts. The president has said raising the debt limit is non-negotiable. Thus, the game of chicken will commence.
Readers may wonder if there is any hope for the larger sort of fiscal deal, in which the House, Senate and administration work together toward shared goals. There is a group of Republican senators meeting with the administration pushing toward that level of resolution, though their efforts are modest so far. A recent New York Times article detailed the group’s efforts and the challenges it faces. Your blogger appreciates the optimism and doggedness of this group in the face of big obstacles.
The topic of sequestration deserves a full discussion so we’ll save that for the next blog post. Just know for now that there is a great deal of advocacy going on in support of repealing sequestration. APA is cosponsoring a major upcoming report about the consequences of sequestration, and APA staff will participate with coalition partners in a big lobbying sweep in early September.