As Congress approaches the floating deadline for a final debt limit deal, it has engaged in curious sideshows that leave people wondering just how serious it is about the country’s fiscal plight.
I call these stunts two-trick pony acts: One trick involves the Congressional budget resolution, and the other involves the debt ceiling.
As the parties jockey for position, their antics provide entertaining diversions from what really matters. But do they serve any useful purpose? Or are they just horseplay?
In posing these questions one should keep in mind that politics, which propels our system, is simply another form of gamesmanship to determine winners and losers. However, when you’re playing with other people’s money and the stakes are high, you better choose your tactics wisely or you will be the ultimate loser.
This year’s budget process began after Congress finally completed last year’s budget in early April — more than six months late.
Two days later, the House Budget Committee reported its fiscal 2012 concurrent budget resolution. The House first rejected four substitute budgets by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Republican Study Committee and the Democratic Caucus (the Blue Dog Coalition withdrew its substitute).
It then adopted the committee Republican budget, the Ryan plan, after Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), with its Medicare-restructuring assumptions.
The Senate, on the other hand, was in no rush to budget seriously.
Although the Senate Budget Committee has yet to report a resolution, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was anxious to put the House-passed budget to a vote the day after Democrat Kathy Hochul won a surprising special election victory in New York’s 26th Congressional district by running against Ryan’s Medicare plan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) had no problem staging that vote so long as the president’s budget was also considered.
This would not be the first time a president’s budget was used as a foil by the opposition party to embarrass the president’s party. In 1987, House Budget Chairman William Gray (D-Pa.) offered President Ronald Reagan’s fiscal 1988 budget as a substitute. It garnered just 27 votes.
After five hours of debate May 25, the Senate rejected a motion, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), to consider President Barack Obama’s budget, 0-97, as well as a motion, pushed by Reid, to consider the House GOP budget, 40-57.
Ironically, on May 24, Reid criticized as “irresponsible” the House Republicans’ plan to vote on a debt limit bill that “they know is going to fail” (one could almost hear the pot and kettle slinging epithets at each other).
The measure was called up May 31 by its sponsor, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), even though he opposed the bill and his committee had not reported it.
Republicans were careful to schedule the debt vote after the stock market had closed for the day, and they prepped Wall Street on the symbolic nature of the vote. The Dow Jones Industrial Average still took a 280-point plunge the next day, reportedly because of unrelated economic news.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.