How Congress Stretches Credibility And Avoids 2011 Government Shutdown
By the time this goes to press, we’re looking at eight days until a “continuing resolution” deadline for the legislative branch to send a bill to the White House or run the risk of a third federal government shutdown of the past 16 years. Unlike the infamous hissy-fit mid-‘90s Newt Gingrich/Contract with America variety, the country is mired in, at best, a stagnant economic recovery and embroiled in three—count ‘em!—three military conflicts, the most recent now ratcheted up to something between Vietnam circa 1955 “advisers” entry-level or a pre-Iran/Contra illegal weapons trade smell test. As the Central Intelligence Agency vets the disjointed Libyan mob our nation contemplates arming, the fiscal battle of Capitol Hill has reached its nexus.
The Republicans proposal of $32 billion in cuts to fund the government, the brainchild of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, has risen slightly in a behind the scenes wrangling to a reportedly $33 billion, which the Vice President recently leaked as “the number” most likely to slake Senate Republicans and, to a large degree, Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has from the very beginning astutely striven to not become the Ghost of Gingrich, while outwardly appearing religiously conservative. This spectacularly difficult juggling act will hopefully for his more reasoned Republican colleagues disallow the Democrats the political Hail Mary it needs to dismantle last November’s GOP congressional gains.
But, alas, as promised, the Tea Party caucus in the House is not screwing around. It plans on pushing a fairly steep $61.5 billion in cuts, and, as of the final day of March, held rallies in front of the Capitol to show it won’t be backing down, and, according to incendiary rhetoric from hardliners, like Representatives Mike Pence from Indiana, Minnesota’s Michelle Bachman, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint and Joe Walsh from Illinois, if it ends in a stalemate that halts the running of the federal government, so be it.
Whether this queers Boehner’s two-faced political chicanery or the Vice President’s so-called “deal” and sinks Republicans into a public relations nightmare has yet to play out. Luckily, Boehner has his sidekick, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in reserve to push hard against any kind of compromise, while at the same time working out a compromise. And compromise is sure to come; making it less likely that there will be a shutdown or its subsequent political fallout. No matter the outcome, the Speaker can continue to look responsibly legislative, claiming a measure of victory as his party upped the Ryan cut proposals by $1 billion, while Cantor remains unflinchingly hardcore.
The pit bull of this dynamic duo was on full display this week as Cantor went off the rails telling the press that if the Senate does not act, which it has not in 40-plus days, then the House’s current “continuing resolution” bill will become “the law of the land.” Now, Cantor is no Michelle Bachman. In fact, he appears to have a fair grip on reality and has used that grip at times quite deftly; especially during the contentious Health Care debate, as he sounded like the most sober and genuinely concerned opponent of key elements of the bill, while refraining from the embarrassing “death panels” or “socialism” hyperbole, which bogged down his congressional brethren. So the best estimate from that evidence is that he must know what every eighth-grader not on mescaline should know; that a bill cannot be a law unless passed through the Senate and signed by a president of the United States. Yet there was Cantor late Wednesday afternoon bellowing to a phalanx of national reporters that the House’s current resolution would magically be transformed into law as a consequence of the Senate’s inertia.
The only plausible explanation for Cantor’s silliness is by making a spectacle of himself he shines a pre-deal light on some portion of Republicans who either have to vote for the less-than-devouring budget cuts while holding their collective nose or throw some dissenting votes against it to regain traction on the Right. Like most congressional grandstanding, it is a show, but in this political climate and with larger battles to come, not the least of which the national budget and the debt ceiling deadline, we get a stellar performance worthy of the late Ted Kennedy, at his thespian best
The Democrats have their own scheme; allow the Republicans to fuck up again. Worked out great for Bill Clinton in ’96 when, with able assistance from excrement monger Dick Morris, the President used the “Republicans are going to kill your grandmother” to reclaim the White House. But hand-sitters like New York Senator Chuck Schumer couldn’t care less if this President survives the next two years, as long as the next two weeks gloss over Democratic congressional overreaches of the previous two years. He and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expect to let the House bill spin in the wind, get the in-fighting to spill over into the cable news quagmire and reap a political windfall.
Meanwhile, as mentioned, the word is that the Senate has already agreed in principle to move forward on the $33 billion resolution. And so now Democrats can feign disappointment and Republicans can fake a red-faced result of being the victims of an end-around. But it will be a small price to pay for moving the fight down the line to other issues, when the Democrats will cry responsibility and the Tea Party will have to stand and be counted or be mocked for a fringe noise-machine like the 2006 anti-war movement, duly ignored by Nancy Pelosi and the 110th congress.
The guess here is that it will be around $33 billion in cuts by week’s end with the ousting of pennies-on-the-dollar anti-Left riders like Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood, sending the spin-doctors to the microphones and test the measure of the shrink-the-government set.
Now, cue the yawning.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.