Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blame It on the Reign

Why does it look inevitable that the federal government will shut down tomorrow night?  We know it is because a budget was never passed by Congress for the fiscal 2011 year.  Who is to blame depends on whom you ask.

My friends on the Right blame the Democrats.  This week’s GOP talking point is in standard-issue bumper sticker format, proclaimed from the highest Fox News mountaintop (or signal tower):  “If the Democrats had done their job and passed a budget when they controlled both houses last year, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”  This excuse has the benefit of being simple, but as with most ‘simple’ talking points, it tells very little of the story.  The Dems couldn't pass a budget when they controlled all the levers of power in DC because they did not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  According to the Left, Republicans put secret anonymous holds and filibusters on each budget proposal, making budget passage all but impossible.  That's the power of the minority.

So while it’s nice to say "Democrats couldn't pass a budget", it goes right back to the Republicans delaying any bill from passing.  As a matter of fact, the Dems did pass a budget bill in November and the Republicans blocked the budget from coming to the floor.  Blaming the Dems is not entirely justified.

It is also true, however, that the Democrats dragged their heels on debating a budget.  Steny Hoyer, former House #2 to Pelosi, stated that his side of the aisle was going to wait and hear what the President’s bi-partisan commission on the deficit was going to say.  Let’s face it, waiting for a commission’s findings in DC is the oldest dodge in the books.   That’s a cop out to protect your decision-making culpability behind some commission.
My friends on the Left blame the Republicans, and there are some good reasons.   There are no liberals protesters on Capitol Hill right now chanting “Shut it down!” – those are all GOP voters from the Tea Party base.  The GOP leadership has stated time and again publicly their intention to force a debate over the role of government in the 21st century by shutting down the government.  This is no longer a budget debate – the Dems caved on the dollars.  On that count, the Republicans have won the battle of this budget cycle.  This is no longer about money – it is all about ideology, pure and simple. 

How do we know?  First, a shutdown will ultimately cost the federal government MORE money, not less.  For a party devoted to reducing the deficit, that should be a matter of some concern.  It isn’t.   Secondly, the GOP is clinging to restrictions on the powers of the EPA being included in the final budget.  Third, defunding Planned Parenthood, NPR, and the implementation of health care reform are part of the package of GOP cuts.  Never mind that the same dollars can be found elsewhere.  These three targets represent the 2011 Holy Grail of Right Wing Red Meat (in 2008, it was ACORN, William Ayers, and Rev. Wright; in 2009, it was Government Motors, socialism and Barney Frank.  This party needs an Enemies List or it cannot attend a dinner party).  The only money issue at stakes for the Right are future campaign contributions.
Many blame Obama, and I understand that.   I have not been impressed with the President’s leadership on this issue, but his job is not to pass a budget – that is the job of Congress.  If anything, Obama is acting more like the Constitutional version of a President – more Administrator-in-Chief than leader of the free world.  The power of the Presidency, and our expectations of the position, has evolved over time.  We expect more from the position and the man, so much more that I have read a variety of posts wanting to know why Obama hasn’t passed a budget yet.  Hey, McFly, the President doesn’t pass anything – that is Congress’ job.  If anything, blame Obama for outsourcing the project to Boehner and Reid without sufficient oversight on the progress of the talks.  Blaming Obama for not passing the budget is like telling the government to keep its hands out of your Medicare.
While Obama’s pragmatism is at times frustrating to a public enamored by bold action and media driven proclamations, it is more in line with what the Founders envisioned.  Congress is supposed to introduce legislation, debate legislation, and pass legislation, including a budget.  I don’t like how Obama has outsourced the traditional role of his position to a Congress designed NOT to get things done, but that is one way to insure limited government.

While the 2011 budget did not get passed during the Democratic reign, and Obama hasn’t signed a budget into law during his reign, and the GOP would like to end most social spending and taxes on the wealthy during their reign, it is ultimately political vanity that reigns supreme at this hour.  During this type of reign, it’s we little people getting wet.

Put on your raincoats.  We’re about to get trickled on.

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