By the time you read this, one of two things will have happened: Either the shouting about the debt ceiling will have turned into complete silence because the deal was enacted, or it will have grown into the decibel equivalent of a multiengine military jet going full-throttle during a rock concert because the deal was voted down (or postponed).
Regardless of whether the agreement announced Sunday is a done deal or just the latest failed political courtship that ultimately is replaced by something else, itís absolutely certain Congress and the president, the House and Senate, and Democrats and Republicans will all be fighting constantly over the budget during the next 18 months.
This will certainly be true if the deal negotiated during the weekend isnít enacted and an acceptable substitute isnít quickly found. If that happens, the debt ceiling fight that has so dominated the discussions within and outside the Beltway during the past few months not only will continue but will get more intense as the Treasury deals with the reality of not being able to borrow, lawmakers face increasingly angry constituents and Wall Street deals with the looming prospect of a downgrade in the nationís credit rating.
Something similar will happen even if the deal is enacted. In fact, the only real difference will be that instead of being ad hoc, the budget battles will be more structured.
The agreement calls for an immediate $400 billion increase in the federal debt ceiling, an amount that analysts say will get the government through the end of September. At that point, the president will have to request an additional $500 billion increase in the amount the government may borrow.
That will trigger the first round of the new disapproval process that ó barring a Katrina-like natural disaster, a terrorist attack on U.S. soil or a military situation ó will keep Congress, the White House, Wall Street and the media completely preoccupied for weeks.
The presidential request to borrow more very likely will be followed by a disapproval debate and vote in both chambers that will be followed by a presidential veto. The veto will then be followed by an attempt in both chambers to override, which almost certainly will fail. That means there will be additional weeks of angry debates, symbolic votes and finger-pointing.
But those wonít be the only budget-related events happening. Fiscal 2011 ends Sept. 30 and, given the current state of the fiscal 2012 appropriations debate, that almost certainly means a government shutdown will be threatened over the funding level for a continuing resolution.
Yes, the debt ceiling deal includes spending caps that, in theory, should make a CR easier to enact. But, especially in the House, a cap will be taken by some as just an upper limit rather than an agreed-upon amount that doesnít require any further changes. As a result, the CR debate will be neither quick nor simple, with tea partyers pushing for spending reductions for fiscal 2012 beyond those in the deal.