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Syria Is A Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card For #cliffgate

04 Sep 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

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.

That's nonsense.

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.

Instead, the exploding twitterverse seemed far more like what typically happens in Washington: Everyone on all sides sees their worst nightmares realized as soon as any discussion begins and every meeting takes place.

That's not to say that Syria won't have an impact on #cliffgate, only that the effects won't be the "he-gave-up-the-farm" doomsday scenarios that analysts, lobbyists, partisans and others were imagining.

Here's what you need to consider when it comes to Syria and #cliffgate:

1. Think of this as a federal budget debate get-out-of-jail-free card. There are only nine legislative days from when Congress returns to Washington next week and the start of fiscal 2014 on October 1 and that wasn't going to be enough to begin let alone conclude any kind of budget deal even before another issue claimed time on the calendar.

Given the political sensitivity of the Syria debate, the GOP leadership now has an easy-to-explain excuse to use with its caucus to delay debating the budget over the next few weeks without having to deal with defunding Obamacare or spending cuts.

Syria makes a short-term CR and debt ceiling increase far more likely. I'm guessing that the extension will be until the middle of November.

2. No, Syria doesn't mean that the military spending sequester will be canceled. If it happens, the fiscal 2014 sequester won't occur until the middle of January. That's so long after what the U.S. does (if anything) in Syria that it won't change the sequester political calculus in any way.

3. No DOD supplemental appropriation. Anyone hoping or just assuming that U.S. actions in Syria mean additional funds for the Pentagon will be extremely disappointed. Unless the military's involvement lasts longer than anyone is currently assuming (and the legislation being drafted in the Senate allows), there will be no supplemental for the Pentagon and the cost of the actions will come from the existing budget.

I See an Implicit Assumption Here

You are assuming that the House GOP's Conservative core isn't outraged by the Syrian vote results. If they feel that they just been rolled over yet one more time, why would they go along without a last minute act of brinkmanship to extract a pound (or ton) of flesh?

And I don't see the outside groups and individuals fighting for cliffgate silently letting their months long efforts be defeated so off-handedly.

I have a feeling that the era of neat rabbits being pulled out of hats in the nick of time has come to an end in the House.

Oops, There is a Corollary

If the House GOP defeat Obama on the Syrian resolution, why wouldn't they keep the momentum going by demanding more on the CR/DC?

Russia changes the syrian course yet one more time

OK, I don't know what effect Syria will have on the CR/DC. The whole Syrian trajectory has been zigged and zagged so much it may have no effect at all. Or maybe the House GOP will be even more irrational after seeing a defeat for Obama pulled from their grasp.


What might a delay of the debt ceiling until November look like in practice? Raising the limit to the amount outstanding today, such that extraordinary measures would be reset and run out again in a couple of months? Or, perhaps more likely, extending the "suspension" so as not to have to specify any number at all? Which course of action generates the least blowback for Boehner?

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