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Anyone involved in, observing or analyzing the federal budget knows by now that the sequester -- the across-the-board spending cuts that were triggered when the anything-but-super committee failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan -- was supposed to be so bad that Democrats and Republicans alike would do everything possible to avoid it. That was the theory, anyway.
The problem is that it hasn't worked out as expected. Rather than be the worst-possible alternative, it turns out that the sequester is actually the best for most representatives and senators compared to the tax increases and Medicare and Medicaid reductions that one side or the other (but not both) are saying they prefer.
That's not to say that the sequester is anyone's first choice because it clearly isn't. But it's just as clearly become everyone's second choice compared to every other alternative way to reducing the deficit.
But what if the question were different? What if instead of the sequester vs a tax increase or entitlement reduction, the choice was between a sequester and no sequester?
Anyone who thinks H.R. 325 -- the No Budget No Pay law that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wants everyone to believe will do so much and be so important -- will, in fact, make any difference is both falling for Boehner's spin and doesn't understand how the congressional budget process really works.
According to the Congressional Budget Act, a "budget" is not really a budget until the House and Senate agree on a congressional budget resolution conference report, that is, each house has to adopt its own budget and then compromise with the other on a joint agreement. The House- or Senate-passed budget resolution means nothing and neither that house nor Congress as a whole is obligated to follow it.
But the text of H.R. 325 makes it clear that the budget included in No Budget No Pay is not a budget resolution conference report:
When I was much younger, I helped start a monthly breakfast meeting for a handful of inside-the-beltway budget wonks.
It now looks like the Senate on Wednesday will pass the "no budget no pay" version of the debt ceiling increase that has already been adopted by the House.
This will be the third GOP budget miscalculation, misstep and mistake in a row.
The first was the fiscal cliff, which turned out to be a political debacle for congressional Republicans in general and House Speaker John Boehner (OH) in particular. Boehner's Plan B disaster will go down in U.S. political history as one of the most ill-conceived efforts by any speaker on any issue. The ultimate result was that the House GOP was forced to do something it told its base it would never do -- allow an increase in taxes to be considered and enacted. It also had to kill the so-called Hastert rule (nothing comes to the House floor unless a majority of the majority are in favor of it) to do it.
The second was the empty GOP threat to use the federal debt ceiling to get the White House to agree to spending cuts. The dollar-for-dollar formula that for months Boehner had been saying was a nonnegotiable demand was completely dropped when the administration refused to negotiate.
CG&G alum Bruce Bartlett has an important column about federal spending in The Fiscal Times that does what Bruce does best: Say it straight with no BS.
What Bruce shows -- convincingly -- is that, contrary to those that say federal "spending" is the long-term problem, the real problem is spending in just one area -- interest payments on the national debt. Spending on virtually every other area of the budget is flat over the long term while interest starts to rise precipitously in 2020 and keeps rising over the next 60 years.
This isn't to say that interest payments on the national debt don't constitute federal spending because that obviously isn't true. But, as Bruce points out, the deficit for the non-interest part of the budget -- the "primary deficit" -- is only 1.7 percent of GDP over the long run and that makes it far less scary than the deficit scolds want us to believe.
Don't just take my word for it, take a look here.
I want to thank the academy, my agent, my high school dramatics teacher and, of course, my beautiful and talented Wife (The BTW) who has been there for me ...
Given what happened in July 2011 when they decided to do the opposite (you remember the anything-but-super committee, right?), we should all be happy House Republicans have agreed that this time they won't hold hostage the increase in the federal debt ceiling the Treasury says will be needed by the end of February.
We should also be grateful that legislation embodying the House GOP plan will be debated and presumably passed in the House today -- about a month before the deadline.
But it's important to note this moment in federal budget history: The House GOP plan is nothing less than total capitulation to the Obama administration and Senate Democrats.
How much of a surrender? In 2011 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was saying that a debt ceiling would never again get adopted unless the president agreed to concessions. Eighteen months later the debt ceiling effectively is being raised with no White House concessions and the GOP is struggling to come up with some kind of spin it can use to counteract what everyone can see...that it tucked its tail between its fiscal legs and rolled over.
Over at The Plum Line, Greg Sargent has an important post about the way the debt ceiling fight could end without triggering a cash-crunch crisis for the federal government. Greg thinks is could be one of two possibilities.
First, the House GOP could agree to a version of the plan first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that helped solve the last debt ceiling fight in August 2011. That plan effectively transfers the ability to raise the government's borrowing to the president. Greg notes that this time the plan would be approved over the legislative equivalent of McConnell's dead body, that is, over a filibuster McConnell himself would lead. Greg also notes, however, that there may well be enough Senate Republicans willing to join the 55 Democrats to make this happen.
Second, Greg says that the same combination of Democrats and some Republicans in the House that voted for the fiscal cliff deal would likely approve the McConnell plan or a clean debt ceiling increase if the GOP leadership allowed the vote to take place.