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“Gimmicky Nature Of The Contingency Fund”: The Intra-GOP Budget Fight Grows Toxic Ahead Of Schedule

At the beginning of a week where action was scheduled to begin on a FY 2016 congressional budget resolution, it looked like Republicans were on the brink of a big split between fiscal hawks in the House who wanted to maintain caps on defense spending negotiated with the Obama administration and/or to require specific cuts in domestic spending to offset adjustments, and defense hawks in the Senate who wanted above all to blow up the defense caps forever and blast them to hell as a first step towards a 1980s-style defense buildup.

Those intra-Republican dynamics remain in place, but the fight has broken out much earlier than expected, in the House itself, and in fact in the House Budget Committee, where Paul Ryan’s successor as chairman, Tom Price of GA, can’t seem to get the votes to report a budget resolution. The Hill‘s Vicki Needham has the arcane story:

Negotiations to resolve a dispute over defense spending blew up Wednesday night in the House Budget Committee, as the panel came up short of approving a nearly $3.8 trillion Republican blueprint.

Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) saw the chances of pushing through an amendment to boost defense spending without offsets fade quickly in the waning hours of a markup of the GOP’s budget proposal, in the latest misstep for House Republicans.

Without a resolution, the Budget panel packed up for the night with Price saying the committee may reconvene Thursday, after even House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn’t able to break the impasse.

House leadership had tested the waters for an amendment from Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) — which would bump up funding to $96 billion for an emergency account earmarked for overseas conflicts without a pay-for — in an effort to attract reluctant defense hawks.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), started reaching out to GOP Budget Committee members about whether a proposal to appease defense hawks could pass the panel even before Price kicked off his budget mark-up, according to aides.

Basically, Republicans anticipated trouble on the floor passing a budget resolution that already included a big chunk of change for an off-budget “contingency fund,” and tried to get an extra $20 billion thrown in to placate the defense hawks, but fiscal hawks on the committee–including that highly symbolic freshman, Rep. Dave Brat of VA, the man who slew Eric Cantor–said no.

Meanwhile, outside the hothouse–yes, pun intended–of the lower chamber, defense hawks were already complaining about the gimmicky nature of the contingency fund and are demanding a straight-up major boost in defense spending. Neocon WaPo blogger Jennifer Rubin was shrieking yesterday that the initial House budget resolution represented a “political betrayal” and a “disaster for national security.”

Trouble is, it’s not easy to find a way to accommodate still more defense spending in a budget that already (a) has the aforementioned phony-baloney “contingency fund,” (b) achieves its “balanced budget” targets only via “dynamic scoring” BS and by assuming revenues from implementation of Obamacare even as it proposes to abolish it, (c) proposes partially privatizing Medicare and dumping Medicaid on the states, and (d) stipulates vast but unspecified additional “entitlement” savings outside Social Security and health care.

There’s just no obvious way out of the budgetary math problems the GOP has invented for itself. If Republicans cannot come up with a consensus budget agreement, we’ll have another high-profile example of that party’s inability to govern, and there will also be no way to proceed with the plan to pass a reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare to show “the base” what Republicans will be able to do once the hated incumbent has left office.

Expect the gimmickry to reach new heights.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 19, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Budget, Fiscal Policy, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Can Kiss Medicare Privatization Goodbye”: GOP Has A Vice Grip On The House, A Much More Tenuous Grasp Of The Senate

For the last four years Republicans have used their small power perch in the House of Representatives to prime members for the day when they’d control the whole government. During each of those years, House Republicans passed a budget calling for vast, contentious reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and other support programs. Republicans proposed crushing domestic spending to pay for regressive tax cuts and higher military spending, and then went further by laying out specific structural reforms to popular government spending programs.

Today they control the Senate as well, which represents significant progress toward their goal of complete control over the government. But as Republicans inch toward that goal they’re also growing less committed to their ideas.

Senate Republicans will not include detailed plans to overhaul entitlement programs when they unveil their first budget in nearly a decade this week, according to GOP sources… The GOP budget would balance in 10 years, according to GOP lawmakers familiar with the document, but it will only propose savings to be achieved in Medicare and Medicaid, without spelling out specific reforms as Ryan and House Republicans did in recent budgets.

House Republicans can proceed as they have in years past and pass a controversial budget of their own, but based on this report, it looks like the Senate isn’t inclined to reciprocate. The simplest explanation for the commitment gap is that the GOP has a vice grip on the House, but a much more tenuous grasp of the Senate. Leaving Medicare privatization out of the budget is a simple way to make life easier for embattled GOP incumbents in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and elsewhere.

But that basic political calculation speaks to a much bigger structural impediment facing the kinds of policies conservative activists want to see. The farther and farther you zoom out from the gerrymandered districts most House Republicans represent, the more difficult it becomes to build political support for the House Republican budget. At the swing state level it’s very hard. At a national level it’s probably impossible.

Back in 2012, Republicans hoped to skip directly from controlling the House alone to controlling everything. If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan had won, the party would’ve been well prepared to implement the kinds of policies Ryan had trained his foot soldiers in Congress to vote for. Instead, the slower process of expanding majorities has exposed basic weaknesses in their position.

In 2012, Grover Norquist could, with some authority, declare: “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget…. We just need a president to sign this stuff.”

That line of thinking doesn’t hold up anymore. Can Republican presidential candidates run on privatizing Medicare if Senate candidates down the ballot can’t be seen supporting those kinds of reforms? Could they successfully spring a big entitlement devolution on the public in 2017 if they don’t campaign on it aggressively in 2016? George W. Bush tried that in 2005 and it blew up in his face. There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t play out the same way again.


By; Brian Beutler, The New Republic, March 16, 2015

March 18, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, House Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Obama’s Budget Matters”: Differences Within The GOP That Could Be Finessed In The Past Will Have To Be Dealt With Openly

When President Obama releases his budget on Monday, the words “dead on arrival” will be widely incanted because they are part of a quasi-religious Beltway ritual.

This year, those words will be misleading.

No one expects Obama’s budget to be enacted as he proposes it. Republicans responded even to early outlines of his plan with a wall of opposition. But this time around is different because, paradoxically perhaps, the fact that Republicans control both the House and Senate makes Obama’s role more rather than less important.

For the last four years, the budget game was three-cornered. The president played alongside an often radically conservative Republican House and a Democratic Senate with views of its own. Now, Obama’s plan will be the main public alternative to whatever the Republicans decide to do.

Moreover, the Republicans are responsible for passing a budget through two houses, so differences within the GOP that could be finessed in the past will have to be dealt with openly.

The most obvious will be on whether to continue cuts in the defense budget prescribed under the so-called sequester enacted in 2011. GOP defense advocates want to raise Pentagon spending substantially, libertarians want to keep both domestic and military spending low, and many mainstream conservatives will try to cut domestic spending even more to accommodate defense increases. The third option will almost certainly be a non-starter, not only with the president — he has a veto and will insist that any cuts be balanced between the two sides of the ledger — but also with many in the GOP rank-and-file.

Obama has declined to offer premature concessions to the Republicans in his own proposal, which further clarifies the stakes. At the same time, he has made things trickier still for his opponents by putting many of his ideas in a form that Republicans have supported in the past. That’s true even of some of his tax proposals.

The president is aware that the most damaging alliance in Washington has been the one between establishment deficit hawks, who continue to think that long-term deficits are the premier economic issue before the country, and Republican conservatives, who have used the legitimate concerns of the deficit hawks to justify deep cuts in government programs without any offsetting increases in revenues.

The president will call this bluff by putting $1.8 trillion in long-term deficit reduction on the table. But most of it will come on the revenue side. His argument here is straightforward: The bulk of the deficit reduction in the deals reached since 2011 has come from cuts in discretionary spending — that is, almost everything except the big retirement programs — which is now at its lowest level as a share of GDP in decades.

The deficit hawks who aren’t part of the ideological assault on the public sector know that the basic functions of government have already been cut too much and that some new domestic spending, particularly for infrastructure, is essential. Obama calls the question: If additional revenues are unacceptable, how is deficit reduction supposed to be achieved? There can’t be any “grand bargains” until conservatives acknowledge upfront that tax increases of some kind need to be part of any long-term solution.

But the biggest challenge to Republicans may be whether they are willing to go along with Obama on ideas that are plainly in their wheelhouse. One small but significant hope: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have been pushing the idea that we need more evidence-based policymaking, and Obama is joining their campaign. This sounds like a no-brainer, but much needs to be done to integrate concerns about what works and what doesn’t into our governing routines.

Republicans have been trying hard to tout their concern about income stagnation and an increasingly frozen class structure. Obama will be pushing for a new initiative, “The Upward Mobility Project,” to provide more flexibility to local officials in a set of government programs if they can show how their efforts will help people climb occupational and income ladders. Projects of this sort are exactly what we should be thinking about.

When budget fights become melodramas over whether the government will shut down or default, we lose track of what the exercise is supposed to be about. Obama’s opening bid ought to be the start of a back-to-basics debate — an argument that will extend into the 2016 campaign — over what we actually want government to do, and how we propose to pay for it.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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