Stan Collender's blog
Quick note about tonight's State of the Union Address: I'm not expecting too much to be said about the budget, deficit or debt.
There are four reasons.
First, as much as a budget person likes me hates to admit it, all three of those topics are highly contentious, wonkish and almost certainly will darken the mood. In other words, they'll do exactly what most president's don't want to do with a SOTU.
Second, the president will want to use the speech to talk about his vision, that is, about the "promised land" voters will find if they follow his lead. He will want to make it clear that budget problems will be solved, or at least diminished, as the country moves in that direction rather than the country will move in the right direction if it solves the budget problem.
Third, there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for the White House to talk about these topics. In fact, as soon as the SOTU and the follow-up events the administration has planned around the country are over, that's just about all it will be discussing through the end of March. The SOTU is almost the admnistration's last chance not to focus on these things.
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.