Considering that the 113th Congress has sent only 29 bills to the president’s desk this year – on pace to make it the least productive session on record – it seems hopeless to think Republicans and Democrats will agree on a budget by Jan. 15. Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, says “there is common ground.”
We hope Murray is right, and there are reasons to have hope.
There are really four possibilities, according to 10th District Rep. Denny Heck: another government shutdown standoff, kicking the budget can further down the road, making some kind of small deal and, finally, reaching a so-called grand bargain that would chart the nation’s long-term fiscal course.
In Washington, D.C., anything could happen, but House Republicans probably won’t force another shutdown in a year when all 435 seats are up for election. And given such rampant congressional dysfunction, it’s laughable to even talk about a long-term strategy.
That leaves just two options.
First, Congress could extend the budget deadline yet again, which means putting it into a can with the next debt ceiling date (Feb. 7) and kicking both down the 2014 road. But that moves the crisis point even closer to next year’s mid-term elections, and House Republicans have no desire to remind voters of the financial pain they inflicted on innocent Americans this fall.
Second, Congress could strike a small deal that scores political points but leaves any hard lifting until after the November 2014 elections. This seems likely, and may be the source of Murray’s optimism.
The next wave of sequestration cuts kick in early next year and dramatically impacts the Department of Defense. The Republican caucus might want to avoid those, inspiring them to negotiate with House Democrats.
Democrats, on the other hand, might not be in a negotiating mood. The cuts in federal discretionary spending have already gone deeper than those suggested by the 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known as Simpson-Bowles.
Any deal that doesn’t include new revenue to restore some of the discretionary cuts almost certainly won’t entice Democrats to consider major Republican demands, such as changes to Social Security or Medicare.
Still, there appears to be negotiating room for both parties.
To make that room and to facilitate productive talks, House Speaker John Boehner must take the threat of another shutdown off the table, as Heck and 177 other House members have urged him to do.
We can avert another crisis if Congress considers the negative impact on Americans, and the world, of their failure to find agreement. Let’s hope that thought crosses their minds.