Wednesday, October 02, 2013

When did a continuing resolution become the new normal?

I think the Republicans have a great tactical idea in passing smaller funding bills to address whatever it is about the government shutdown that is stirring the greatest angst. People worried about Veterans' benefits? Pass an appropriation for the VA. People worried about funding the District of Columbia? Pass a bill to fund D.C. People upset about the closing of the national parks? Pass a bill to restore that funding. But the Democrats are protesting that this is all garbage and that we shouldn't fund the government piecemeal? Say what? Funding the government piecemeal is basically what the government is supposed to be doing. Having a humongous a continuing resolution is what Congress has adapted to because they haven't been able to perform their responsibilities in the recent past. There is nothing natural or right about having to roll all the appropriations into one large continuing resolution that is full of garbage that no one ever reads.

It's pretty pitiful that what was adopted as a solution to Congress's inability to get its work done is now regarded as the gold standard for budgeting the government.

Harry Reid refuses to bring such bills to the floor and Obama threatens to veto such bills. The Democrats are betting that the shutdown is a political benefit for the Democrats and is distracting public attention from "glitches" in the rollout of Obamacare. Maybe the shutdown story will help the administration hide Obama's prediction that the glitches will last for months which is different from what he's been telling us for months about how easy this is all going to be. It is all about political tactics and theater right now rather than what the actual policy is.

And Obama has decided that the real way to show presidential leadership is to tell us how terrible the shutdown is for the country and then to refuse to take a role in trying to end it. He's following Harry Reid's advice and stand firm.
Mr. Obama has made Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid his surrogate in the conflict with Republicans. Mr. Reid has also declined to negotiate. In fact, Politico reported that when the president considered meeting with Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, along with the two Democratic congressional leaders, Mr. Reid said he wouldn't attend and urged Mr. Obama to abandon the idea. The president did just that.

By anointing Mr. Reid, President Obama put power in the hands of the person with potentially the most to gain from a shutdown. Mr. Reid's position as Senate leader is imperiled in next year's midterm election. Republicans are expected to gain seats. They need a net of six pickups to take control and oust Mr. Reid. His strategy is to persuade voters that the shutdown was caused by tea-party crazies in the GOP, and that turning over the Senate to them would be foolhardy. If Mr. Reid's claim resonates with voters, it might keep Republicans from gaining control of the Senate.

Mr. Obama insists that he is ready to discuss tweaks in ObamaCare "through the normal democratic processes." But, he said last week, "that will not happen under the threat of a showdown."
Obama loves to talk about his willingness to meet with foreign leaders who have become pariahs for most of the rest of the world, but he doesn't want to meet with Republican leadership. As Fred Barnes writes, Obama doesn't like to negotiate with Congress.
The president in the past has proved to be a difficult negotiating partner. In his first term, he blew up a "grand bargain" on taxes and spending with Mr. Boehner by demanding even higher taxes at the last minute. Without what Mr. McConnell calls a "forcing mechanism," no major agreement on domestic issues has been reached.

The three deals that Mr. Obama has signed off on—all negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden—were forced. The president agreed in 2010 to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years as they were about to expire. In 2012, he made the Bush cuts permanent except for the wealthiest taxpayers. In 2011, he agreed to spending cuts in exchange for an increase in the debt limit as it was close to being breached.

The president's tactic of attacking Republicans during a crisis while spurning negotiations bodes for a season of discord and animosity in the final three-and-one-quarter years of the Obama presidency. That he has alienated Republicans doesn't seem to trouble Mr. Obama.

"He's been a terrible president, just awful," Mr. McConnell told me. The McConnell agenda consists of stopping the president from raising taxes and boosting spending. And the focus on ObamaCare will continue. "The ObamaCare fight is not over," Mr. McConnell says. "This is the gift that keeps on giving."

Mr. Boehner has vowed to stay away from efforts to come to terms with the president on deficit reduction. Mr. Obama says he is willing to curb spending by reforming entitlements, but Republicans no longer believe him. They've given up on the possibility of a grand bargain.

Today the buzz in media circles in Washington is that the shutdown is a defining moment for Mr. Boehner. It may well be. But it's also a critical test of Mr. Obama's leadership. And by declining to lead, so far, he has failed that test.
Let's remember how Obama resisted the same sequester that he once supported. We were warned over and over how terrible it was going to be for the economy. Now we don't hear so much about the sequester any more.

But the sequester was only a small step towards the sorts of compromises on mandatory spending that needs to happen. As Holman Jenkins writes, we still need to do something about entitlement reform.
A favorite Democratic talking point starts from the claim that the 2012 election settled everything; the Obama vision of an expanded entitlement state won. But, rightly, nothing is ever settled in a democracy, and Mr. Obama certainly settled nothing because he never said how he wanted to pay for the spending he treated as untouchable.

In fact, his public attitude that all spending was sacrosanct was somewhat belied by his off-the-record (he thought) claim to the Des Moines Register editorial board in the race's closing hours that his first order of business would be a grand bargain with Republicans on taxes and spending.

This was more Obama smoke, since we're nowhere near a consensus on what such a bargain should consist of and we may need 10 more episodes of tea party "madness" to get there.

Not only will there be more such showdowns. What passes for progress each time will be tiny—until it's not. The 2011 sequester, which caused critics to engage in choruses of disapproval and the S&P to downgrade U.S. debt, set us on a path to today's modestly smaller current deficits. This week's peculiar fight may be resolved by a near-meaningless repeal of ObamaCare's self-defeating medical device tax—a teensy if desirable adjustment, having no bearing on the deficit tsunami that begins when the baby boomers start demanding their benefits.

We are at the beginning of the beginning. Yet the birth pangs of entitlement reform that will one day inspire the world (as we did with tax reform in the '80s) may be what we're witnessing.
Remember that all this sturm und drang over the continuing resolution is just about discretionary spending. They're arguing all this over less than 30% of the federal budget.