That makes the payroll tax cut set to expire Feb. 29 the only real legislative cliffhanger between now and Election Day and the only opportunity for the GOP to demand budget-related policy changes or else. And given Monday’s announcement that House Republicans will not insist on offsetting spending cuts to pay for an extension, even that now has to be considered unlikely.
It also means that, with the White House refusing to focus on the deficit, there will be few opportunities for Congressional Republicans to make the president’s budget an issue over the next nine months.
One of the things to watch will be how often the administration makes any of its senior economic people available to testify on the budget at Congressional hearings. In addition, with former Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew, who was responsible for formulating the 2013 budget, unavailable to testify because he’s now White House chief of staff, the much lower-profile acting director, Jeff Zients, will be the person designated to appear on Capitol Hill. Zients will be able to claim that, as OMB deputy for management, he had limited involvement in the budget he’s being asked to defend.
The administration also isn’t likely to accept many invitations to speak or appear on Sunday talk shows if the budget is supposed to be the primary topic.
The final political consideration for the administration is also the most obvious: It’s an election year. It was clear from this year’s State of the Union address, when the deficit was barely mentioned, that the president wants to be the candidate who offers better times rather than the one who promises things such as spending cuts, higher taxes and reduced government services that cause stress or real pain for the average person.
This is hardly surprising, given that virtually everyone in the United States gets some type of tax or spending benefit from the federal government, including many of the biggest and most vocal opponents of big government.
The White House undoubtedly anticipated the criticism it has already received for not proposing to do more immediately on the deficit and has made yet another calculation that it will quickly fade as the focus shifts from what the budget includes to the pain the GOP is proposing. That actually adds up.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”