Alexis ChapmanTuesday,27 October 2015
Budget talks began yesterday between House and Senate leadership’s aides and White House officials to try and work out an agreement to avoid a government shutdown. The current option on the table would keep the government running at least until after the 2016 elections (as opposed to having it shutdown on December 11 when the current budget expires). Yay, I guess? Government shutdowns are expensive and annoying and if we can’t get our politicians to agree to avoid them altogether I guess getting them to agree to avoid it for now is sort of a win. It would be nice if we had a political system that didn’t allow partisan squabbles over spending to shutdown, or nearly shutdown our government every couple years. But that’s crazy talk, who has a system like that? Well every other county on the entire planet, but oh well, America is special. With just under 7 weeks until the deadline it seems like they’re cutting it pretty close on a very important issue, but that’s nothing compared to what’s going on with the debt ceiling.
Parallel negotiations have also begun between the two groups that will hopefully result in a deal to raise the debt ceiling. They have about eight days to reach an agreement. According to the U.S. treasury secretary, on approximately November 5 the Federal government will be at risk to start defaulting on payments unless it’s allowed to borrow more money. We’ve never actually defaulted before so no one is sure exactly what would happen. The general consensus when this comes up, like it did in 2011 and 2013, is that it would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy and almost as catastrophic for the global economy and that we need to really really not default.
Current Speaker of the House John Boehner is apparently part of both sets of negotiations, rather than likely future speaker Paul Ryan. This indicates that the intent is to reach agreements on both issues before Boehner’s planned exit on Thursday. However, the Republican party is so fractured at the moment that it’s hard to say if that’s even possible. Just last week House leadership didn’t call a vote on several Republican-authored debt ceiling bills because it was clear there weren’t even enough Republican votes to pass any of them. Those versions contained a number of provisions, such as spending limits, that would have been unacceptable to the Democrats or the White House but the process in the past (remember this dysfunctional calamity happens every two years now) has been to pass a version with these kind of caveats and then eventually revise it into a “clean” bill that just raises the limit without strings attached. Assuming unanimous Democratic support for a clean bill it would still need at least 30 Republican votes in the House to pass. With the previous versions off the table and the bipartisan negotiations already underway it seems that the plan this time is to skip straight to a clean version and bypass the political theater of putting forward multiple versions that everyone knows will never get enacted.
In spite of the hectic deadlines and the inter and intra-party bickering there are a lot of reasons that both talks should succeed and provide us with a budget and a debt ceiling bill by the end of the week. First, no politician wants to be remembered as one of the idiots who tanked the global economy out of sheer stubbornness. Second, the whole “if I don’t get my way I’m going to shut down the government!” bit was cute the first time (not really) but if you do it all the time it just gets old and it’s pretty hard to see how this could possibly be in the best interest of anyone’s constituency. And finally, writing and passing necessary legislation to keep the country functioning is literally all these politicians’ job (it’s not campaigning and yelling at each other I swear, look it up) and what better time to do your job than when everyone is watching you? That said, even if/when our elected officials do their jobs and these issues get resolved, neither the debt ceiling or the problems with the federal budget will be gone forever, and possibly not even for long. So look for this article again probably in 2017, I’ll try to remember to change the relevant names and dates.