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It wasn't too long yesterday after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his support for the president's position on Syria that the blogosphere erupted with speculation that the White House had cut a deal. Boehner, it was said, had quickly signed on to U.S. military action against Syria in exchange for the White House moving closer to the GOP position on the upcoming battles on the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and sequestration, that is, on #cliffgate.
The two issues are so separate, the White House and congressional Republicans are so far apart on everything having to do with the budget, Boehner's and Obama's ability to deliver their respective party's votes on spending and revenues so doubtful and Boehner's and the president's history of negotiating so poor that it's virtually impossible to imagine how the administration and the speaker could possibly have come to any agreement on Syria and #cliffgate so quickly.
There will be only 9 legislative days before fiscal 2014 starts on October 1. Approximately 15 calendar (but no more than 10 legislative) days later, the Treasury says the government will not have the cash it needs to pay all its bills. At that point either the federal debt ceiling will have to be raised so the government may borrow more or a technical or actual default will occur.
Yes...The headline on this post is inflammatory and intended to attract eyeballs, visitors and clicks.
It's also totally accurate.
I'm posting this is because of this editorial in today's The New York Times that is both absolutely correct and incredibly naive when it comes to federal spending on natural disasters.
Here's the money quote:
Two weeks or so ago I posted that this fall's (and winter's) budget debate could best be described as "budget bedlam."
I was wrong.
Since that post the situation has taken a turn for the worse and "bedlam," which sounds more like a Marx Bothers, Mack Sennett, or Three Stooges movie than a political event, may no longer be appropriate.
I'm using a new phrase -- Fiscal Fiasco -- to describe what could be ahead.
What's changed? House and Senate Republicans are now threatening to use the debt ceiling increase that will be needed by the middle of November rather than the continuing resolution that will be needed by October 1 to make yet another stand on Obamacare.
This is more than just a timing shift for the fight: It actually significantly changes the probability that something economically disastrous could result.
I've referred back to this post so many times since it first went up more than two years ago that I almost have to apologize for doing it again.
Almost, but not really, and especially not this time.
For those who are new to CG&G (or who have blocked out any memory of that post for your own reasons), in early 2011 I was the first speaker at the first meeting of the House tea party caucus.
I was invited by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to speak about the coming debt ceiling fight because of a column I had written (and she misread) for Roll Call. I spoke first but was asked to stay for the rest of the meeting when the tea party chairs from Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia told (actually...screamed at would be a better description) the 20 or so representatives who were there what they wanted from them in that session of Congress.
Number one on their wish list was -- and this is an exact quote -- "defund Obamacare."
August actually is a pretty good time to be in Washington.
Yes, the weather usually is awful. But with Congress gone, getting to work isn't as stressful because there's less demand on roads and public transit. You can get up later and still get to work on time.
And...of course...there's daily upbeat news from the Redskins' training camp.
I saw and felt all of this almost immediately on Friday when the House followed the Senate out of town for a five-week recess. Traffic was indeed lighter than usual, getting a table at my family's favorite local Italian bistro wasn't a problem and RGIII was interviewed on all of the local channels. Good times for sure.
But the usual sense of dramatically less stress that typically takes place at the same time didn't happen. Instead of talking about vacation plans, the standard topic of conversation all weekend was about what's going to happen when Congress comes back.
As a federal budget wonk, I was especially and repeatedly put on the spot by friends, reporters and clients about what's going to happen after Labor Day.
Norm Ornstein is a long-time (as in decades) friend.
He's also one of the foremost congressional experts/scholars/pundits in U.S. history. So when he writes to say that this CG&G post from last week about Republicans in Congress is "excellent," I want to tell the world about it.
More important is that Norm's note reminded me to link to his recent article in The Atlantic about how the only way to understand what's happening in the GOP these days in to realize that there are actually five Republican parties rather than one and the five don't get along.
Let me return the favor: Norm's piece is excellent and worth a few minutes of your time.
Make no mistake about it; House Republicans definitely prefer that a Republican be elected president.
But what's been clear for years on things related to the budget has become even more obvious in recent weeks with the take-no-prisoner decisions House Republicans made on immigration and agriculture: The House GOP is increasingly unwilling to make its own political lives even slightly more difficult by making accommodations (that is, compromises) that make the election of a Republican candidate in 2016 more likely.
And I don't just mean compromises with Democrats. These days House Republicans are as unwilling to make deals that make life easier for their R Senate colleagues as they are with the Ds in either house.
In this era when almost all federal budget process deadlines are routinely missed or completely ignored, it's hard to believe that the fiscal 2014 mid-session review of the budget was released yesterday, a full week ahead of the July 15 statutory deadline.
The mid-session review was released with virtually no fanfare. In fact, many of my budget geek friends who, trust me on this, live for the release of federal budget documents, didn't know it had been released until this morning.
In one sense this is simple: The U.S. spends about $1.5 billion a year on all aid to Egypt and, based on the fiscal 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 112-74), foreign aid is prohibited to any country where there has been a military coup of a democratically elected government. If aid is suspended, that could mean that federal spending and, therefore, the deficit, will be lower than had been projected.
So much for the easy part.
1. The first question is whether the aid will actually be suspended. The Obama administration so far has refused to use the word "coup." This presumably is at least partly to preserve its ability to continue to provide aid if it sees a need to do that.
2. If the aid is suspended, the impact on the current fiscal year deficit will depend on how much has already been spent. In theory, one-quarter of a total appropriation is supposed to be spent each quarter of the fiscal year, but the actual spend out rate can vary substantially by program. I'm still checking, but it's definitely possible that the full $1.5 billion has already been spent this year and that suspending the aid will have no immediate budget impact.