Thereís increasing nervousness on Capitol Hill these days about the one thing that has to be done on the budget before voters go to the polls.
Unlike 2011, when multiple spending, tax and debt ceiling deadlines were repeatedly met only through last-minute deals that had those both inside the Beltway and on Wall Street biting their nails, there is only one must-be-passed-by date before Novemberís elections: Oct. 1, when fiscal 2013 begins and funding to keep the federal government operating must be enacted to avoid a shutdown.
Until very recently that date wasnít considered to be much of an issue. The thinking was that, after the way the GOP took it on the chin politically after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns and after the drop in Congressí approval rating after last yearís fight over raising the debt ceiling, House Republicans wouldnít dare prevent a continuing resolution from being adopted just a month before the elections. They might huff and puff, but blowing the House down and in the process reminding voters only weeks before they go to the polls how unhappy they were last August wasnít thought of as an especially smart ó and, therefore, likely ó strategy.
That prevailing opinion has begun to change as the political realities of the CR fight become clearer. In particular, there are growing doubts about the House GOP leadershipís ability to control the situation.
Remember that, despite having a majority, House Republicans werenít able to pass the 2011 continuing resolution without Democratic votes. Only 182 of the 241 Republicans voted in favor of the conference report.
The question in 2012 is whether Democrats will be willing to supply the votes again if Republicans canít get to a majority on their own.
This is of growing concern because the only CR that might be acceptable to that many House Republicans is likely to have a spending level that House Democrats wonít agree to. Itís also not likely to be agreeable to House Democrats if, as some suspect, the House GOP-preferred CR includes a provision that cancels the military spending part of the Jan. 2 sequester that was triggered when the anything-but-super committee failed last November to come up with a deficit reduction plan.
The differences between the spending levels that would be acceptable to each party are substantial and, even though thereís a number between the two that in a previous era might have been an obvious way to deal with the situation, the split-the-difference compromise probably isnít possible in the current political environment.
Democrats appear to be ready to fight to the death for the $1.047 trillion (sorry, but rounding to three decimal places is important here) discretionary spending level agreed to in the Budget Control Act, most of the tea party wing of the House GOP seems just as adamant that the number should be $1.028 trillion, and a subset of the tea party wing has been pushing for $937 billion.
At least for the moment, neither of the lower spending levels nor the sequester change are acceptable to Senate Democrats, who are virtually certain to insist on the BCA-approved amount and that the sequester not be changed.