WASHINGTON – The good news: both the House and Senate have approved an agreement negotiated with the White House that will make it more difficult for right wing lawmakers to force government shutdowns for at least two years.
Three tea party senators tried to block the deal and failed.
The agreement includes a federal budget that will guide spending until September 30, 2017. Among other things, the budget suspends arbitrary limits on spending known as “sequestration,” a gimmick right wingers forced lawmakers to adopt several years ago.
Moreover, the package raises the debt ceiling until March, 2017, so the U.S. won’t default on its debts.
The bad news: government shutdowns are still possible.
The federal budget merely sets the uppermost limits on spending. The House and Senate appropriations committees, both run by right wingers, will now put together an omnibus spending proposal detailing exactly what the government will fund and how much money will be spent.
If the right wingers attach “poison pill” riders to the spending bill, such as defunding Planned Parenthood, Democrats have vowed to block it. If a standoff between lawmakers lasts until after December 11, parts of the government could be shuttered on that date.
More bad news: all three senators who tried to block passage of the spending agreement are running for president: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
Obama halts crisis-driven spending deals
For the past several years, the government has been operating on “continuing resolutions,” temporary funding measures that last only a short time. As each temporary funding measure has expired, there has been a crisis. More often than not, Republicans have threatened not to fund the government if they did not get their way on something or another.
Early last month, President Obama said: not again.
“Congress has to do its job,” he said at a press conference. “It can’t flirt with another shutdown.”
He said he “won’t sign another shortsighted spending bill” and asserted that sequestration was hurting the economy.
Regardless, Republicans gave no indication they were interested in changing their ways until Obama exercised his veto, something he has done only five times. He nixed the Republicans’ military spending bill because it continued sequestration.
Then they had no choice. If the Republicans wanted to get their pet military projects funded, they had to do it through the budget process and had to negotiate a deal with the White House. Then-Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did just that.
The budget agreement contains several compromises with the rightists.
It repeals an Obamacare requirement that large employers must automatically enroll new employees into company health insurance plans. (If they want to, employees can still opt in.)
It also raises Medicare Part B premiums for about one third of the recipients. Starting next year, they will have to pay $123 monthly, a hike of $19 a month. (Which is better than the originally proposed hike of more than $55 a month.)
However, the compromises were not enough to satisfy most Republicans. Despite the fact that the government would have to shut down next month if the budget deal didn’t pass, the majority of Republicans in both houses voted against it: 167 in the House and 35 in the Senate.
Fortunately, enough Republicans in each house voted with the Democrats to pass the budget with clear majorities, no thanks to Senators Cruz, Rubio and Paul.
The three of them attempted to filibuster the agreement to death, but were shut down at 3a.m. this past Friday when the majority of the Senate called for a vote.
Two hours earlier, Sen. Paul had tried to exhort his colleagues to hold the American economy hostage to right wing demands. Despite the fact that if the U.S. defaulted on its debts the American people might suffer another recession, Paul said, “This is exactly the time we should be using the leverage of the debt ceiling.”
Fortunately, in this instance a number of Republican senators put the American people before political advantage and the agreement was approved.
Stan Collender, a former staffer in the House and Senate Budget committees, best summed up the situation. He told NPR News:
“That tells you a great deal about how far budget policy has gone … where keeping a government funded is considered a great achievement.”
Photo: Republican Sens. Rand Paul (l) and Ted Cruz (R), both candidates for the presidency of the United States and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, also a candidate for the highest office in the nation, led a failed filbuster aimed at torpedoing the federal budget. Had they prevailed the right wing would have succeeded in shutting down the federal government. | AP