The GOP budget sequester, a budget summit, and government shutdown politics


George Will, the patrician prevaricator for the plutocracy, has a mini-me at the Arizona Republic, Robert Robb, who trolls for his former employers, the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on the editorial pages of The Republic.

In a recent column Robb wrote about the looming budget battle and possible government shutdown, gleefully concluding that Senate Dems give GOP an election gift:

Screenshot from 2015-01-25 15:31:49[I]f a spending impasse occurred between Obama and the Republican Congress, chances are that the GOP would still get most of the political blame. The president has the bully pulpit, compared to the congressional cacophony. And the spending increases the president would advocate would likely be politically popular.

Enter Senate Democrats.

Appropriations bills are subject to the Senate’s virtual filibuster, where the minority pretends it is going to filibuster and the majority pretends to believe it. It requires 60 votes to overcome a virtual filibuster and get to the vote on the actual bill.

Senate Democrats are reportedly planning to virtually filibuster the appropriations bills, preventing Senate Republicans from passing them, so they never even get to Obama’s desk.

In other words, Senate Democrats want to threaten to shut down the federal government before Republicans get a chance to.

If Democrats prevent the Senate from acting on appropriations bills, the blame game for the subsequent impasse and potential government shutdown becomes hopelessly muddled. And Democrats will have booted one of their principal advantages headed into the 2016 elections.

Robb, as is his wont, is guilty of the sin of omission — he fails to tell you anything at all about what this budget battle and government shutdown politics is all about in making his partisan political point. It reminds me of an old poster from the 1970s that said “I must be a mushroom because they keep me in the dark and feed me bullshit.” Robb treats you like a mushroom and feeds you bullshit.

What this is all about is the GOP budget sequestration. You remember this farce don’t you? The budget sequestration of which everyone said that no sane person would ever agree to and it would never happen, until the GOP adopted it as their austerity economics policy to end the debt ceiling crisis that the GOP manufactured in 2011. Weeper of the House John Boehner said I got ’98 percent’ of what I wanted in debt deal. What he got was automatic across-the-board budget cuts to domestic and defense spending beginning in 2013.

You will recall that Neocon war mongers like our own Sen. John McCain were unhappy with the automatic budget cuts to defense spending. McCain has been demanding that the GOP budget sequester caps be lifted from defense spending since it was first enacted.

Neocon war mongers have settled upon a creative way to get around the GOP budget sequester caps. They have created an Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account which is not counted against base defense appropriations for purposes of the GOP budget sequester, similar in many ways to the off-budget supplemental war funding used during the Bush-Cheney years. You may recall that President Obama made it a point to bring the supplemental war funding back into the base defense budget when he was elected so that Americans could know the true cost of our wars.

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved this new dishonest spending arrangement. Senate panel passes $576 billion defense spending bill:

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 27-3 on Thursday to pass a $575.9 billion defense spending bill, setting the stage for a fight over budget caps.

Only three Democrats voted against the bill, but Democratic leaders say they will block the bill when it hits the floor next week.

“Democrats will vote against the motion to proceed … not because we want to be pugnacious … but because we want to end sequester,” said the committee’s top Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

Democrats object to the bill, since it keeps in place sequester budget limits [for domestic spending] but skirts those caps on defense by boosting a Pentagon war fund.

Democrats are pressing Republicans to lift the caps for nondefense spending as well and say they will block consideration of all spending bills until GOP leaders agree to a budget summit.

The president has threatened to veto any bill that adheres to the caps and has urged Congress to lift the limits.

Democrats have derided the use of the war fund, known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), as a “gimmick.”

Mikulski said it was “simply a tool to finesse the budget caps.” OCO “sounds like a rare bird from Costa Rica,” she added.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, urged Republicans to begin talks on lifting the caps and avoid a potential government shutdown in October when the new fiscal year starts.

“Why do we want to wait until September to have this talk?” Durbin said. “We’re trying to have this high-level mature conversation now.”

He warned that the Republican spending plan “will simply not succeed,” and there were not enough votes to override Obama’s veto. Republicans would need 13 Democrats in the Senate for a veto-proof majority.

* * *

An amendment from Durbin to move $38 billion from the war fund to the base budget failed in a party line 14-16 vote.

However, the committee did vote 18-12 to adopt a measure by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to express the sense of the Senate that the budget caps should be lifted.

The Hill reports today, Congress paddles toward a shutdown:

The fight over government spending that has dominated much of the decade, calmed for two years because of a bipartisan deal, is roaring back to life.

Democrats are adamant that Republicans back off their plans to increase defense spending without doing the same for nondefense programs.

They argue the GOP is using a budget gimmick to funnel more money to the Pentagon without raising spending limits on healthcare and social welfare programs.

To try to force the party’s hand, Senate Democrats say they will block every annual spending bill unless Republicans agree to a budget summit.

Republicans, for their part, say they have no intention of caving to Democratic demands.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) say they won’t convene a budget summit and warn Democrats could earn the wrath of voters by blocking bills to fund the military.

Unless someone blinks, none of the 12 annual spending bills will be approved by this summer — leaving Congress on the brink of a shutdown in late September.

The finger-pointing has already started.

“Democrats once thought it was insanely radical for Republicans to oppose too much spending, but now think it’s perfectly reasonable to shut down the government when the spending bills don’t spend enough,” Boehner stated in a Monday memo to reporters.

“We’re headed for another shutdown,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said of Republicans last week. “They did it once, they’re going to do it again.”

* * *

Still, Republicans are wary of the issue, given its history on Capitol Hill.

One likely way out is passing a continuing resolution (CR) at the end of September that would keep current funding levels in place.

Some Democrats believe McConnell is angling for such a solution.

* * *

This would keep the GOP’s reputation for governing intact and spare the Senate leader from having to side with defense hawks who want to boost spending over fiscal conservatives in his conference who don’t want to lift the budget caps.

A stopgap measure would extend current funding levels set by the accord reached at the end of 2013 by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), at the time the respective heads of the Senate and House Budget panels.

Their deal halted the automatic spending cut known as sequestration. But extending it for another year would not offer any relief because the spending cap set by the 2011 Budget Control Act for fiscal 2016 is slightly higher than the top-line number set by Murray and Ryan for fiscal 2015.

McConnell, as usual, is playing his cards close to the vest, offering little hint of his next step after forcing Democrats to vote on the popular defense appropriations bill later this month.

He and Boehner could agree to high-level budget talks later in the year, but only after forcing Senate Democrats to vote against a series of appropriations bills, giving ammunition to the argument that Democrats are obstructionists.

Democrats argue it will take at least two months to hash out a deal on a top-line spending number, which means a stopgap is the intended outcome.

“If you wait until the end, you’re going to get a [continuing resolution,]” New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, said at a press conference last week.

“That’s what they want,” added Reid[.]

* * *

The chore for McConnell and Boehner could be further complicated once the government needs to raise its debt ceiling limit. That’s likely to happen this fall.

“I made it very clear after the November election that we certainly are not going to shut down the government or default on the national debt,” McConnell said earlier this year in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“We’ll figure some way to handle that, and hopefully it might carry some other important legislation that we can agree on in connection with it,” he said.

[In other words, the GOP will take the government hostage again to their extortionary hostage demands.]

Another agreement to lift the spending caps when Republicans control both chambers of Congress would not go down well with Tea Party conservatives. The first Ryan-Murray deal was somewhat more palatable because Democrats controlled the Senate at the time.

So to review: this is all about the GOP budget sequester that no same person would ever have agreed to, and the Neocon war mongers who are dishonestly cheating on the GOP budget sequester caps with the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) gimmick for additional defense spending. The GOP does not want to lift the GOP budget sequester caps for non-defense spending, in fact they would eliminate social programs and attack the “entitlement” programs of social security and Medicare and give more money to defense spending if they could get away with it. Democrats want to repeal the insane GOP budget sequester and to return to a normal budget process, because GOP austerity economics is a major contributing factor to the slow but steady economic recovery. Without GOP sabotage of the economic recovery, it would have been more robust.


  1. I don’t know who hates the chamber of commerce more this blog or seeing red arizona blog! Hey how about something on the hunger strikers in eloy who were put out in the hot sun with no water for hunger striking in a private immigration prision.

    • María Inés Taracena at The Tucson Weekly is covering this extensively as a reporter. Rather than link to her reporting and repeat it here, I would direct you to the Tucson Weekly for the most complete reporting on this topic.

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