U.S. Rep. Denny Heck warned months ago that this year’s Congress would be defined by its fall over a series of policy cliffs, some of which might kill valuable programs or wreak havoc in our communities.
So far, the Olympia-based Democrat has been right. His first warning dealt with the unfolding death of the Export-Import Bank which faced a June deadline for reauthorization.
Ultimately, the Ex-Im Bank failed to get new congressional authorization to keep guaranteeing new loans, which are used to help finance overseas sales of Washington-made Boeing jets and also other Washington-made manufacturing and agricultural products.
Heck and other Democrats had hoped to link the bank’s extended life to a transportation-funding package, which never succeeded. The federal Highway Trust Fund did get a six-month extension in funds, but not reauthorization for the bank. Republicans in our state’s House delegation never got enough pressure on their leadership to produce results.
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In the worst case, Ex-Im Bank withers as its loan portfolio is closed out. Lawmakers like Heck, who has sponsored legislation to extend its life, worry about what Boeing now might do to reduce its U. S. workforce.
More ominous, Heck is predicting that a government shutdown is likely to happen in the next month or two over party differences concerning the House-approved defense budget worth $612 billion.
Heck offered his assessment on Aug. 21 during comments to an Association of Defense Communities forum at Joint Base Lewis McChord where he and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, talked about the threat of budget cuts to the local military base.
The last federal government shutdown was in 2013.
The budget year ends Sept. 30, so that is the date congressional calendars must focus on.
Democrats have rightly objected to majority-GOP efforts to bypass caps and provide extra funding for military programs by using special accounts meant to pay for war-related expenses. Democrats favor raising spending to cover legitimate programs.
President Obama has signaled he won’t accept the GOP approach that cuts the rest of government across the board. House GOP leaders also are fighting their own members over calls to cut funds for Planned Parenthood, which could also lead to a shutdown.
JBLM is already expecting cuts of 1,250 active-duty soldiers as the Pentagon reduces armed forces from about 490,000 active duty soldiers to 450,000 as part of the U.S. wind-down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the worst case, the Army could have to shed some 30,000 more soldiers than it already plans to do as part of a longer term resizing of the armed services. What additional share would be lost in the Northwest is less clear.
Smith wants to revive the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to identify bases and functions that can be eliminated. Smith’s concept is good because it can identify spending that is not essential. But his long-term proposition likely won’t help this year.
Across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, were supposed to be a fallback position, in case budget stalemates occurred. The idea was to create a scenario so awful that everyone would compromise.
Obviously both parties must compromise, but it’s hard to say whether that can happen. So the unthinkable, awful scenario of sequestration – or a shutdown – once again lies in wait.