Five deadlines in the next four months: negotiating with the party of “100% cuts, 0% revenue”

Suzy Khimm explains the five deadlines we face in the next 3-4 months, now that the debt ceiling fight has been pushed out to May (if the GOP House bill is passed in the Senate):

In theory, a sweeping budget agreement would render nearly all of these deadlines moot. But Congress and the White House have failed time and again to pull that off, making it more likely that we’ll muddle through from deadline to deadline. Here’s what happens when:

(Dylan Matthews)

Feb. 4: The president is required by law to release a 2014 budget on the first Monday of February. The White House has already said that its budget will be late, citing delays because of the fiscal cliff negotiations, and it’s likely to hold off until congressional Democrats can agree on what budget offer they want to make. But the president will likely lay down some markers the following week, in his Feb. 12 State of the Union speech.

March 1: The sequester is scheduled to take effect, as the Jan 1. fiscal cliff deal only replaced the automatic spending cuts for two months. Senate Democrats have agreed to put out a budget resolution for 2014 by this date as well, per House Republicans’ request. But this is just a blueprint that will still have to be reconciled with the House’s own budget. That means that Congress will have to find another short-term fix for the sequester cuts if it wants to keep it from taking effect.

March 27: The short-term budget funding the government’s discretionary spending expires, as Congress only passed a six-month Continuing Resolution in late September 2012. The spending levels have already set by the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, which placed strict caps on spending. But both President Obama and Republicans have agreed to further discretionary cuts, reopening those caps. If Congress still hasn’t come to a budget deal, the GOP could use the CR as a point of leverage to extract cuts, threatening to shut down the government unless their demands are met.

April 15: Both the House and the Senate will be required to adopt a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014. If they don’t, then legislators will have their pay put into escrow beginning April 16 until one is passed. However, regardless of what happens, any withheld pay will be given to legislators at the end of the current Congress because of the 27th amendment.

May 19: The three-month suspension of the debt-ceiling expires, which means that we risk breaching the debt limit unless Congress acts again. However, it appears that the Treasury Department would once again be able to use “extraordinary measures” to buy a few weeks more time, which means that May 19 wouldn’t be a drop-dead date.

Steve Benen points out the deadline that, with the track record of this Congress, will surely be missed: “…if Congress doesn’t deal with automatic sequestration cuts before March 1 — just 36 days away — the result is a scenario that neither side wants to see: painfully deep cuts that would undermine both the economy and the military. [...]

In theory, it’s not too hard to imagine a bipartisan deal: half the money could be found through new revenue via tax reform, half could come by way of spending cuts. The problem, of course, is that GOP leaders continue to insist that any agreement be 100% cuts, 0% revenue.

“There’s not a single Republican vote” for more revenue, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

No, of course not. That would be sensible.

In the House, the picture is similar.

“They already got their revenues,” [House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan] said. “So what, we’ll roll over and they get more revenues? That’s not how it works. In the spirit of bipartisan compromise, they’ve gotten revenue increases already. We’ve yet to get anything as a result of it.”

That Paul Ryan just doesn’t have a very good memory. In 2011, there was a big debt-ceiling agreement in which President Obama accepted over $1 trillion in spending cuts. “We’ve yet to get anything”? House Speaker John Boehner boasted in 2011, I got 98% of what I wanted.”

And Benen asks the most important question of all: “If the 2011 agreement included cuts, and the 2012 deal featured revenue, is it really so outrageous to think a 2013 compromise should be balanced and include a combination of both?”

It shouldn’t be this difficult for adults to negotiate and find bipartisan solutions to problems facing the entire country. But here’s where we can most easily observe the effects of gerrymandered congressional districts in action: a entire nation held hostage to the whims and fantasies of conservative white, rural, Bible-thumping, gun-clutching, red state ‘Mericans — a shrinking minority! — who elect the most ideologically extreme candidates from their little slice of Teabagistan. Combine these people with the Establishment Republicans, who are the defenders of Power and Wealth, and it’s no surprise the GOP is in chronic gridlock.

John Boehner would be doing the entire nation a service to bypass the Hastert Rule and work around his mess of a caucus on all these deadlines and any other important issues facing this Congress.

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