The Budget Wars
The budget battle down in DC is getting nasty. Neither President Obama nor Republican House Speaker John Boehner is willing to compromise. With both men digging in, the possibility of a government shutdown grows closer by the day.
The disagreement is twofold. First Issue: the budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, which Obama released on February 14th. The proposal includes cuts to nearly 200 federal programs. Republicans say that isn’t enough; they want to cut more spending. And they’re calling Obama out for not even mentioning entitlement programs in the proposal (ie. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), which account for the biggest part of the government’s budget. Democrats, on the other hand, think that the proposal includes enough cuts to spending, maybe even too much; they’re not happy about the elimination of summer Pell Grants and loan interest subsidies for graduate students, among other things.
The second—and more pressing—issue: the “continuing resolution,” or spending plan, for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which must be passed through Congress by March 4th to avoid a government shutdown. The Republican-controlled House is adamant about cutting spending; on February 19th it passed its version of the continuing resolution that would cut about $60 billion from the current federal budget, were it to get passed through the Senate and signed by the President.
The Democrats have been quick to point out the negative aspects of the Republican spending plan—specifically, the job loss it would cause. But Boehner, speaking a few days before the measure was passed in the House, seemed indifferent to the issue.
“Since President Obama has taken office the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs, and if some of those jobs are lost, so be it,” he said. When asked if he had an estimate of how many jobs would be lost, he simply said, “I do not.”
Over at the Washington Post, Dana Milbank decided to find out just how many jobs would, in fact, be eliminated. Speaking to a budget expert, Milbank concluded that the Republicans’ proposed budget cuts would lead to the loss of 650,000 government jobs, and the indirect loss of 325,000 more jobs, as government workers spend less money.
“So be it?” wrote Milbank, responding to Boehner’s nonchalant attitude.
The federal deficit seems to bring out the worst in both parties. Republicans claim to be all about job creation, and yet they’ve passed a spending plan that would cut thousands of jobs. Obama has always been about bipartisanship, and yet he has vowed to veto the spending bill if it gets to his desk. The continuing resolution still needs to go through the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is likely to undergo numerous changes, if it is approved at all.
The result is a budget “war” that may well lead to a shutdown. If the government were to close up shop, even briefly, Obama said it would prevent senior citizens and veterans from getting their benefit checks. But Boehner has also flat-out rejected a temporary extension of the current budget without any cuts, which would give the government more time to compromise, and would prevent the temporary closing of federal agencies.
“When we say we’re going to cut spending,” said Boehner, “Read my lips: we’re going to cut spending.”
Such is the stubborn attitude that’s taken over the budget debate. Republicans see this as their chance to put Obama in his place—to change the way he’s run the government for the last two years. The Democrats, however, see it as irresponsible and extreme.
It’s still not certain who will cave—Obama or Boehner. And, if neither does, expect the first government shutdown since 1995, when a different Democratic president clashed with a different Republican Congress over very similar reasons. They each blamed each other—as Obama and Boehner are doing now—but, in the end, President Clinton came out on top with public opinion heavily in his favor.
Boehner had better watch out. Picking a fight with the president is a ballsy move. And more often than not, history repeats itself.