The ongoing budget battle is apparently not one which shall be won in a single, massive assault, but rather in a series of week long skirmishes. (These are known to veteran congressional warfare analysts as Continuing Resolutions.) The first bone of contention comes in the form of the raw number of dollars being spent by Washington, and each side has their own take on it.
The Democrats clearly realize that a majority of Americans are worried about massive federal spending, deficits, and the national debt. Their plan thus far has been to ask the voters not to worry so much. It’s a bold strategy, and one which has served them well in the past. Much like that dog from the movie UP, progressive forces in Congress have traditionally been able to get voters to look away from the squirrel by either dangling a shiny object in front of them — such as a national health care plan — or by summoning up a Threat to Everything We Hold Sacred plotted by the evil Republicans.
When it comes to the budget, the bucket of shiny objects has run dry, so it seems we’ll be falling back on Plan Number Two.
For their part, the GOP has been proving a willing foil in this comedy of errors. One of the early thrusts in their attack this year, at least as told by most of the cable news networks, was dire indeed. It seems to have involved having elderly citizens — my mother, for example — subsist on a diet of cat food made from radioactive trash fish caught off the coast of Japan, washed down with tap water polluted by strip mining. Normally, of course, this is a plan I could quickly get behind, but there are a couple of things stopping me this year. First, it already costs too much to feed our cats and the increased demand would probably drive the price up further. And second, I still have to sit through dinner with my Mom every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Sadly, even after the two Capitol Hill tribes noticed America becoming frustrated with the lack of progress and drew close to an agreement on precisely how much spending to cut, they discovered yet another way to accomplish nothing. The Republicans determined that they simply couldn’t take yes for an answer unless the cuts included slashing spending on some “social programs” which included items such as funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and, I believe, retirement homes for salt marsh tit mice in the wetlands surrounding San Francisco Bay.
Never ones to allow progress to block the road to failure, the Democrats immediately took to the ramparts. They would defend the rights of America’s women, all seven people who still listen to NPR, and presumably mice, even if it meant sending home tens of thousands of workers and not paying the military personnel currently engaged in three different wars.
Faced with such dizzying logic even I began to wonder if there might not be a better way for the GOP to package their proposals in a manner more palatable to America as a whole and the Democrats in Congress in particular. Of the various arguments I’d heard, particularly from more libertarian leaning friends, one was rather compelling. “Where,” they asked, “were the corresponding cuts to programs near and dear to the hearts of conservatives? Doesn’t this approach paint the Republicans as unserious on the matter of fiscal restraint? Are they only using the budget crisis as a ploy to promote their insidious social conservative agenda?”
It seemed a fair point, and as luck would have it I was scheduled to take part in a conference call on April 7 with Senators John Thune and Jeff Sessions, both members of the budget committee. I determined that I would put the question to them.
When my chance came to ask, Senator Thune didn’t miss a beat. Rather than offering a list of “conservative” spending items facing the ax or an explanation of why we shouldn’t do that, he pointed to an entirely different reason. The vast majority of discretionary spending items such as these are only allotted to programs which are part of the liberal agenda. There wasn’t much to cut by way of conservative programs, he said, because conservatives simply don’t like spending money that way.
I confess, I left the call without an answer for that one.
And so the battle rages on. In the end, though, Congress is going to have to come up with a budget not only for the rest of this year, but a larger, more difficult one for 2012 as well. The consequences of failure are simply too great. Not only is it part of their job — providing vital services, paying the military, and keeping the machinery of the federal government humming — but the effect this is having on the members of Congress themselves is terrible to behold.
The House members and senators are staying up all hours, losing sleep while they debate each other. They are missing out on important opportunities to return to their home states to meet with lobbyists and fundraisers. And while they spend every waking hour hashing out budget line items, Congress is entirely unable to take up other pressing matters of national interest such as health care reform and global warming and drilling moratoriums and card check and … and …
You know, maybe these weekly Continuing Resolutions have some merit after all.
Also read ‘Why the Democrats have made Planned Parenthood funding their hill to die on‘ at the Tatler.