Representative Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, summed up his party’s position in eight words: “This isn’t a budget – this is a cause.” Meanwhile, President Obama chided Congress for failing to budget, but intimated that Republicans would have to bend more to get a bipartisan deal. “We can’t have a my way or the highway approach to the problem,” he said.
And so the budget battle, which has dragged on for so long since last November’s election tipped the balance of power in Congress, appears to be heading towards a climax. The president isn’t interested in any more continuing resolutions. Democrats are trying to preserve all the programs they can and – urged on by the Tea Party movement – the freshmen class of the GOP is pushing for deep budget cuts. This is a massive game of chicken, on the scale of Clinton vs. Gingrich back in 1994, and the outcome is equally uncertain, except for the surety that most everyone will be unhappy with a compromise.
“I can’t have my agencies making plans on two-week budgets,” Obama said yesterday. “What we are not going to do is once again put off something that should have gotten done months ago.” The current continuing resolution that funds the federal government expires on Friday. Republicans offered to support another continuing resolution that would last a week more, provided it contained $12 billion in spending cuts. Unwilling to endure the fiscal equivalent of a death by a thousand cuts any longer, the president indicated that it was time to force a decision.
The Tea Party movement expects the GOP to keep its promise of settling for nothing less than $100 billion in spending cuts this year and has pledged to hold Speaker John Boehner accountable if those cuts aren’t made. Boehner promised to deliver the “largest spending cuts possible,” but doesn’t appear to believe that reaching $100 billion is in the realm of possibility.
To date, Democrats have agreed to something between $33 billion and $73 billion in spending cuts, depending on who is doing the counting. Republicans say the former figure is accurate, while some Democrats – including the president – insist that the latter is true. Fiscal conservatives should be encouraged that the culture of Washington has changed enough in the short term that the argument is about how deep spending cuts should be, not whether cuts are desirable. Everyone outside of hard-core leftists understands that government needs to kick its spending habit. The question now is how meaningful those cuts will be.
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