Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Morning After: Budget Battle Bad Drama

With apologies to anyone with an IQ over 40, the entire week-long, all-enveloping budget fight and threatened government shutdown was nothing more than a well-orchestrated test run on the American psyche.

There was never any chance of the government shutting down over the slim array of ideological and money issues which faced congress and the president, and in the end, what actually emerged from the "eleventh hour" save of face was not a deal to end the budget debate, but a deal to extend it a week further, with new conditions, including a rider to limit abortions in the District of Columbia and another that promises studies to be conducted on the financial regulation measures passed last year, known as Dodd-Frank.

In the end, the congress and the president only agreed to extend the process another week, so there's still a possibility that negotiations could drag into another government shutdown scenario, though that seems unlikely.

The more plausible case is that lawmakers finally close the books on the 2011 budget, the Republicans get roughly $38.5 billion in cuts, funding for NPR and Planned Parenthood is retained, and the fight resumes over raising the debt ceiling in the next few weeks.

That fight may be even more precarious, as Tea Party Republicans will once again threaten to shut down the government instead of approving more borrowing and spending.

What has become clear from the recent budget spates is that the key actors - Senator Harry Reid, House leader Boehner and president Obama, have demonstrated a willingness to put drama before rational governance and to use the American public as pawns in their inside game of chicken.

If a deal is struck - finally - by Thursday or Friday (still unclear as to the exact next shutdown clock), then the 2011 budget can finally be put to rest.

Through this entire process, though especially at the end, the politicians were roundly criticized for their bickering and theatrics. A government shutdown - which still may occur - was widely hailed as unacceptable by Americans across a broad spectrum and the lawmakers took heed, rushed back to their conferences and passed a bill to avert a shutdown at the last minute.

It's pretty clear that had public support favored a shutdown, congress would have gone home and taken a few days off. Expect the next threatened shutdown to include paying active military service members but not much else. The plan is still on the tables of both parties to furlough up to 800,000 non-essential federal employees, with the goal being a permanent reduction in the federal workforce.

This most recent ploy was just a warm-up act. The real deal or no deal will come later this year, possibly this month.

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