Washington politics shutdown negotiations

  • Thursday, October 17, 2013


As I write, we are now over a week into this government shutdown and a quick resolution is not in sight. Most of us would like to see one, but each day that passes brings us closer to yet another Washington issue that needs resolving, the debt ceiling. In deciding how we fix these two storms at the Capitol, I’d ask you consider two things.

First, we could pass a so called “clean” Continuing Resolution tomorrow, but without resolving the underlying budget issue we will find ourselves right back in the current impasse in a few weeks. The same is true of a “clean” debt ceiling raise, which would raise the limit on our “credit card,” but would do nothing to address the $17 trillion we already owe, or the growth of government spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in just 12 years there will only be enough money for interest and entitlement spending – and no other federal government spending - without borrowing, cutting or taxing significantly more. One can argue about the tactics and timing of this particular debate, the nexus here was Republicans’ question on whether we can afford another $1 trillion dollar entitlement, but it underscores the degree to which it’s past time for this debate.

In many ways we are here because there has been an absolute breakdown of the funding process in Washington. Unlike when I left Congress 13 years ago, the annual debate on the 12 federal spending categories has devolved to funding government in one big bill, a so-called Continuing Resolution. Under these resolutions, government winds up simply funded at last year’s levels, and treating all spending the same doesn’t reward effort or excellence. In tackling Washington spending, the questions is if not now, then when? We sure can’t wait years to do so.

Second, while I’m hardly a defender of process in Washington, the way things have been done offer some insight into how they will be done in the Capital city. Over the last 35 years there have been 53 debt limit increases, and 17 government shutdowns. Except in a handful of years where debt increases were automatic and therefore not debated, in every instance they have been subject to negotiation. Whether there were Democratic or Republican presidents, Senates, or Houses – every time there was negotiation. We have differences, and lots of them - but we have sat down and ironed them out for over 200 years. This change in perceived executive authority is particularly important given the Constitutional questions that are raised when the President decides unilaterally how his own law will be enforced, despite the fact that the Founding Fathers charged the executive branch with enacting whole laws, never parts of it at their discretion.

Many friends in Mount Pleasant tell me newly claimed Presidential authority and Washington spending are issues worth confronting now…and I agree.

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