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Deja Vu: Agreement Reached on Another Short-Term Stopgap With Cuts

The President said today that he would probably have to live with another short-term funding measure while negotiations continued on a solution for funding the rest of the fiscal year. Given that neither party really wants to see a government shutdown, and that Republicans think this whole short-term thing is working well for them, it doesn’t surprise me to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid embracing the short-term solution. Here’s some world-class spin:

“I am glad that we were able to come to an agreement with Republicans on a three-week Continuing Resolution made up of cuts already proposed by Democrats that will also be free of any ideological, special-interest legislation. However, we can’t continue to run our government two or three weeks at a time. I believe it’s crucial that we avoid a government shutdown, but continually resorting to stopgap spending bills is bad long-term policy and could be bad for our economy. If Republicans are serious about cutting the deficit, they should be open to new solutions and ideas instead of clinging to extreme policy positions. It’s time to work together toward a long-term solution that makes smart, responsible cuts but doesn’t threaten our economic future.

“This week’s Senate vote sent a clear message that the Republicans’ irresponsible, $100 billion plan to slash aid for homeless veterans, kick kids out of Head Start and risk border security simply won’t fly. It’s too dangerous for our recovering economy and would cost 700,000 American jobs. So, with the clock ticking, it’s time for Republicans to do what they have been avoiding: come to the table with a serious proposal and a willingness to work with us on a long-term budget free of extraneous legislation.”

If this feels like two weeks ago, that’s because we’re basically in the same place. Republicans and Democrats can’t come to an agreement, so Republicans propose some cuts that Democrats offered as their half of the solution, package them into a short-term stopgap, and Democrats embrace it. This wipes the table clean for the next round of negotiations. Democrats will feel compelled to offer another several billion in cuts, Republicans will hold their ground, and then they’ll just put together another stopgap, taking the Democratic cuts off the table again, and inching along. This three-week stopgap will include $6 billion in cuts; that means that so far, this would mean about $10 billion cut over a five-week period. I am actually curious to see how this impacts the March jobs numbers; my feeling is it won’t be a good sight.

So what’s next? Everyone grumbles about how you can’t run a government on two- and three-week funding cycles, Democrats say no riders, Republicans say no funding for health care, there’s an impasse on the total cuts, and then Republicans chip away with another short-term stopgap. These look like wins for Republicans, and though the economics of it is insane and counter-productive, nobody will stand up and put a stop to it. It took a senior official at the Treasury Department, of all places, to say the unsaid – that only a shutdown will break this cycle.

A senior Treasury department official told reporters Thursday that a brief government shutdown may be unavoidable as the only feasible way to de-escalate the confrontation over government spending dividing Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. The official said the administration still hopes to avoid such a flashpoint because of the impact it would have on the economy, but added that President Obama will not sign short-term stop-gap government funding measures in perpetuity.

Really? You could have fooled me. Because the President signaled his willingness to accept this one, the second in a row, and hours later, the agreement has been reached.

UPDATE: You can see all the cuts at the House Appropriations Committee site. They do appear to be all cuts from the President’s budget request, but nothing too notable, except perhaps this:

Corporation for Public Broadcasting = -$50 million. The bill terminates the “Fiscal Stabilization Fund” which provides funding increases to public broadcasting stations to offset reduced public donations. The bill also terminates the “Radio Interconnection” project that was completed in 2010. These programs were also terminated in the President’s budget request as well as the Senate Democrats’ most recent CR proposal.

Don’t know quite how that will impact public radio and TV budgets.

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David Dayen

David Dayen