Congress avoided one budgetary hang-up this year by enacting a six-month, governmentwide appropriations continuing resolution before the elections. However, it still faces a budgetary crisis of epic proportions in the lame-duck session — the confluence at the “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax provisions, across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) and a debt default, the combined effects of which could hurl the country back into a recession.
While it is not realistic to expect Congress to enact a final grand budget bargain during the next month, it is realistic to expect it to make a substantial down payment and establish an enforceable framework for completing the deal early next year in return for putting off the drop-dead dates.
Yes, that would be kicking the can down the road once again. But road-running is far safer than cliff-diving. Consider it a highway to somewhere that would rely this time for its construction on the standing committees of jurisdiction, through a reconciliation-like process, instead of on a super committee powered by super gizmos that go kaput in the night.
In the 1950s, comedian Groucho Marx hosted the TV quiz show, “You Bet Your Life.” If one of the contestants said the secret word, a toy duck (resembling Groucho) would drop from the ceiling with a $100 bill. It will take more than secret words to transform this lame-duck session into a mighty duck bearing big bucks in savings. But sometimes small gains can avert greater pains down the road. That is probably the best that can be hoped for this year.
Don Wolfensberger is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.