Lots of recriminations are already descending on Republicans in Congress for agreeing to a spending extension last night, won by wide margins in both the House and the Senate by the participation of Democrats to avert a government shutdown. The continuing resolution kicks the can down the road until December 11th, when most of the Beltway will be focused on the upcoming holidays:
Just hours before a midnight deadline, a bitterly divided Congress approved a stopgap spending bill Wednesday to keep the federal government open — but with no assurance there won’t be yet another shutdown showdown in December.
Democrats helped beleaguered House Republican leaders pass the measure by 277-151 — a lopsided vote shrouding deep disagreements within the GOP — after the Senate approved it by a 78-20 tally earlier in the day. The votes sent the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Approval of such stopgap measures used to be routine, but debate this year exposed acrimonious divisions between pragmatic Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner and more junior lawmakers in the party’s tea party wing who are less inclined to compromise.
I’m actually surprised that Democrats went for the CR, especially in the Senate. I expected Harry Reid to force Mitch McConnell to round up enough Republicans to pass it, and then blame the GOP when it failed. Perhaps Reid worried that the press would not be cynical enough to back him up on that analysis. Oh ye of little faith …
One can understand why Republicans wanted this can kicked now, particularly in the House, as frustrating as it is. Boehner’s resignation has just kicked off a big leadership fight, which will already generate enough bad press about the GOP. A shutdown in the middle of a leadership fight would make the GOP look even more in disarray than it already is, with fractured responses to the inevitable public-monument closures and sad-panda coverage of federal workers who would have their back pay all but guaranteed anyway. It may not be satisfying, but in this case discretion probably is the better part of valor.
Besides, the spending fights didn’t get jettisoned; they just got postponed for two months. Most of the recent focus has been on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but the real fight will likely be for the spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Republicans want an end to cuts in defense spending, and Barack Obama and the Democrats want to remove BCA-sequestration controls on entitlement spending. A fight is coming soon enough, and McClatchy’s William Douglas previews it:
Even before lawmakers passed Wednesday’s continuing resolution, all sides were bracing for the new budget fight. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated that Democrats won’t surrender ground on sequestration.
Senate Democrats already are playing hardball by filibustering spending bills in attempts to pressure Republicans to renegotiate lifting the budget caps that began in 2013 as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
“Lifting the sequester has been one of my top priorities for years,” Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I hope we can finally achieve this key Democratic goal.”
Republicans have voiced support for lifting sequester caps as well. But while Democrats have focused their attention on lifting them for more spending, most Republicans are interested in boosting the defense budget.
“We have to,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The outgoing chief of staff of the United States Army said that we can no longer defend the nation adequately. That should be sufficient to most members of Congress.”
Hawkish Republicans who oppose increasing domestic spending could balk at easing sequestration, knowing that they can boost the Pentagon’s budget by circumventing the mandatory spending caps.
In two months, this will be the real battle over the budget. Conservatives now fighting over Planned Parenthood funding should take note of this, especially since the only real way to end Planned Parenthood funding is to have a President who will sign a budget without it. The easy way out of the BCA fight would be to hike spending in both entitlements and defense, and unless they hold Republican leadership’s collective feet to the fire, that may be the end result. That would set a new baseline for spending that will be difficult to walk back, even with Congress and the White House under Republican control in 2017.