Given that Major League Baseball’s spring training has just begun and that everyone still thinks his or her team is going to win the World Series, the classic Brooklyn Dodger fans’ lamentation of “wait till next year” obviously is inappropriate when talking baseball.
But even though it’s only the beginning of March and the budget process is just getting under way, “wait till next year” has already become the phrase of choice among budget watchers (calling them “fans” somehow just seems wrong) who want everyone — including themselves — to believe that next year will be the one when it all comes together.
Unfortunately, it’s starting to look as if next year’s budget debate may not be any better either. That little will happen on the budget this year seems to be increasingly possible even at this very early date.
As probably was intended by the White House, the president’s budget proposal has already almost completely disappeared from view, even though it was released only three weeks ago.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already made it clear that he has no intention of having his chamber consider a fiscal 2013 budget resolution because, he said, the appropriations levels were set when the Budget Control Act was enacted last August. Even if Reid changes his mind, and although Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) seems determined to try to get a budget resolution approved, it’s unclear whether the votes exist in that committee to get one adopted.
Things aren’t much better in the House. Just last Thursday, Daniel Newhauser reported in Roll Call that because of deep divisions in the Republican caucus, it’s not at all certain that a budget resolution can be passed this year. The question may well be whether, after counting votes, the GOP leadership even tries.
Add to this that a continuing resolution is in place through Sept. 30, a debt ceiling increase isn’t likely to be needed before the elections, the Bush/Obama tax cuts don’t expire until Dec. 31 and no one is likely to force a showdown or threaten a government shutdown before the elections, and prospects for any action on the budget this year are very limited.
What no one is yet focusing on are the factors that will make a big decision on the budget next year less likely than many are presuming, hoping and praying.
The most important will be an economy that, if the current signs continue, will be in far better shape in 2013 than it has been during the past few years. That might make the 2014 budget debate the ideal time to start putting deficit reductions in place. But it also means that the political concern about the budget will be waning and, therefore, that the imperative to do anything big will decrease.