Obama Administration Gets Tough (Finally!) on Budget Negotiations
Late yesterday President Obama's threatened congressional Republicans yesterday with a pre-election government shutdown if they don't get back into line with the deficit agreement established last year. There was nothing vague about the threat, either, as reported by TPM's Brian Beutler:
“Until the House of Representatives indicates that it will abide by last summer’s agreement, the President will not be able to sign any appropriations bills,” writes Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, in a letter addressed to congressional appropriators Wednesday.
The message is simple: The government will shut down just ahead of the 2012 presidential election if Republicans break faith with the debt limit deal.
The debt limit deal requires Congress by law to limit discretionary spending in next year’s appropriations to $1.047 trillion. During the debt limit fight, leaders of both parties and the White House understood that the government would be funded at this level for the next fiscal year — and moreover they had reached accord on how that money would be divided between defense and non-defense programs. Those agreements removed two trip wires, and appeared to greatly reduce the likelihood of a government shutdown in 2012.
The GOP backtracking on the deficit deal is universally attributed to the conditions House conservatives placed on support for the Paul Ryan budget. In essence, they wouldn't vote for it unless the leadership agreed to begin implementing its cuts through the appropriations process this year. Since this course of action also satisfied Republican Members frantic to head off the planned "sequestration" of defense spending at the end of the year, it wound up making sense to Boehner and company. And their rationalization for tearing up the agreement made so very publicly with the Senate and the White House is that the domestic spending levels in the agreement is a "ceiling, not a floor." In other words: We never meant it.
Now the White House is heading off one tactic they might have employed, assuming they can get some support in the Senate: sending the president a few bills he can sign, and holding off the controversial stuff--a defense appropriations bill with higher spending than the levels agreed to, or say, an ag appropriations bill with deep food stamp cuts--until the last minute, making Obama the bad guy for disrupting the government. It's all or nothing: get back in line with the agreement you signed last year, or let the federal government drift towards a shutdown on September 30, five weeks before the election.
Says OMB's Zients:
“The [Ryan] resolution’s framework allows only two options,” he writes, “every appropriations bill will provide inadequate funding, or some bills will provide adequate funding so that other bills will face even deeper, more problematic cuts.”
“Both approaches break last summer’s agreement, and neither is acceptable.”
Something will have to give, and this time, the White House is setting up barricades before entertaining any negotiations.