09 April 2011

Credence C.R.

Lawmakers managed to avert a shutdown of the federal government with literally a 11th hour agreement to yet another Continuing Resolution for the FY 2011 Budget. The 111th Congress under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 8th) failed to pass a budget and relied on continuing resolutions that used the FY 2010 budget with Obama increases as a baseline. Democrats were avoiding the liberal label during a tough re-election cycle and wanted to pass the buck to their successors. It seemed like the Democrat Congressional Leadership was gunning for a shutdown to pin the blame on Republicans. In the end, Democrats gave much more than their paltry public posturing.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH 8th) did not have an easy sell to the Republican Caucus. The House Majority passed the last Continuing Resolution in mid-March which cut $6 Billion, but it lost 54 mostly Freshman Republicans who were sympathetic to the Tea Party and sought to cut up to $100 Billion as promised during the 2010 Campaign. To placate these non-establishment Republicans, the current Continuing Resolution had placed riders to defund $330 million earmarked for Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the infrastructure for Obamacare.

The devil is in the details which are still somewhat sketchy. But it seems that Congress voted on a stop-gap C.R. to last through the week, which will cut $2 Billion. The final budgetary vote will hack another $36.5 Billion off the FY 2011 Budget. Add these savings to $10 Billion saved from prior C.R.s. Most of the contentious riders , aside from abortion funding in DC, were stripped from the C.R. , however Speaker Boehner is relying on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to offer up and down votes on Planned Parenthood.

The Obama White House had made motions that any C.R.s were distractions and would be vetoed. Earlier this week, President Obama summoned Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid to the White House vowing that they would work together for however long was necessary to hammer out an agreement, then the President took trips to Philadelphia and New York. But the White House quickly seized on the agreement for the Short Term C.R. so TOTUS and the President had an 11 PM Press Availability in the Blue Room which likened visiting the Washington Monument is like the Congressional Coming Together for the C.R.

The Democrat Congressional leadership did not have their smarmy smiles when announcing the "historic" agreement. In negotiating the FY 2011 budget, Democrats have devolved from having no cuts, then $4 Billion, then $6 Billion, then $33 Billion and finally have assented to $38.5 Billion. In February, Sen. Reid denounced the then proposed $32 Billion as "draconian" and "extreme" and he vowed that a vote on Planned Parenthood would never happen. Now there will be an additional $38.5 Billion and a separate Planned Parenthood vote. 

Speaker Boehner noted that the agreement came after "a lot of discussion and a long fight" and was rewarded by a standing ovation from the Republican Caucus. Still, Boehner only won 63% of the gains that he sought and Tea Party internet activists are expressing exaggerated disappointment.

While it is commendable that the size of government is starting to be cut, it is just a drop in the bucket. The $68 Billion would only fund the Federal Government for a brief period, perhaps less than a day. The real achievement is that Conservatives are directing the course of the budgetary discussion now. Tea Party proponents may have voiced more reaction but Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN 6th) expressed sentiments that: The current battle has devolved to an agenda that is almost too limited to warrant the kind of fighting that we're now seeing in Washington." Still, she does not believe that the C.R. agreement cuts enough and does not disconnect the soldiers in combat overseas from being held hostage over the budget battle.

While Bachmann may continue to be a GOP gladfly, she alludes to two elements that helped secure budgetary victory today and hope for the future. As the government shutdown loomed, Democrats tried to frame the dispute like the apply named Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY 28th), who insisted that Republicans want to kill the budget and kill woman. But Speaker Boehner cannily shepherded a separate bill which would fund the military. The Obama White House wanted to force Republicans to compromise so it vowed to veto further C.R.s and the military pay bill. That allowed the new media, where conservative voices flourish, to frame the impasse as Obama was fighting for abortion and not defending the troops engaged in "kinetic military action" overseas. I doubt that those internal polling numbers looked good with already skeptical Independent voters.

The other aspect that Boehner's compromise allowed was more opportunity to cut in the future. By the end of May, Congress will need to pass another increase in the debt ceiling. Tea Party Conservatives and Libertarians are chary about blithely approving this measure, so that offers another opportunity to cut. Moreover, this week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st), the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, offered an ambitious roadmap to federal fiscal sanity over 10 years that has won plaudits for being a real effort to cut the size of government. The Ryan Plan certainly will not be adopted in whole by Congress, but it will be the benchmark for negotiating the budget.

Tea Party activists should be given kudos for holding the Republican leadership's feet to the fire to not allow go-along-to-get-along agreements which result in chimera-like cuts. But they must not allow the perfect to get in the way of the possible. They would be wise to keep their powder and their pants dry for the real fight and not get hung up an achieving everything through this C.R. They should use the momentum to move the ball further during debt ceiling negotiations and certainly the FY 2012 budget which should use FY 2008 as a baseline.

While it is encouraging to hear that Boehner's brinksmanship negotiations will result in separate floor consideration of Planned Parenthood cuts and H.R. 1 defunding Obamacare, I am skeptical that "Dirty Harry" will allow straight up or down votes. I expect that that amendment tree will be loaded up with killer amendments or consideration of the legislation will quickly fail a cloture vote. But at least it will put the Senate on the record over contentious issues and the Democrats have to defend 22 seats in the 2012 cycle.

While Boehner's budgetary agreement offers some good credence, I look forward to the bad moon rising  with  Clearwater Revival in the near future.

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