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Wolfensberger: House Swaps Fiscal Cliff for Marital Rift

One of the lessons House Republicans reportedly took away from their retreat last month was that the House cannot govern this country unilaterally — it must work with the Senate and president. A one-chamber budget does not comport with that lesson. Absent unified action by Congress on the budget, the two houses will continue to fumble along on nonparallel spending tracks, relapsing to government by continuing resolution or, worse, by irresolution and shutdown.

From a positive perspective (the half clap), the “no budget, no pay” gimmick produced 199 House Republican votes to suspend the debt limit (although Speaker John A. Boehner’s new pledge of a balanced budget in 10 years also had something to do with it). Moreover, the bill mustered 86 House Democratic votes and signoff by the president and Senate majority leader.

Most important, the hubbub raised in the House over the Senate’s past inaction on budgets sufficiently embarrassed that body into passing the bill and promising action on a budget resolution this year. Sometimes gimmicks work, although this one could still end up biting House Republicans back.

The adoption of a common budget resolution could lead to a reconciliation process and put both houses back on the same spending track. Those are three giant steps, by no means assured. Still, the commitment by both houses to adopt a budget resolution is a welcome first step, especially if it spares members the agony of marital rift.

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.

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