US budget dilemma

Republicans and Democrats remain positive that a deal to prevent a partial shutdown of the US government is possible.

Republicans and Democrats remain positive that a deal to prevent a partial shutdown of the US government is possible.  Negotiators from both parties and the White House have been mum on what they’re discussing and the sticking points.  Republican leaders say they want $39 billion cut from the budget, Democrats say $38 billion.  Some ideological differences remain, meaning federal workers went home on Friday afternoon not knowing whether they’ll come back to work on Monday. 


The US Congress was supposed to pass the 2011 budget by September 30th of last year.  But election year politics intervened and Congress decided to pass a temporary funding bill and leave the hard work until this year.  Now with the fiscal year almost half over, Democrats and Republicans are finally getting down to figuring out what the spending priorities should be.


The differences:

Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on what issues they disagree on – are they stuck on how much to cut or what to cut?  Democrats say Republicans need to stop injecting social ideology into fiscal policy and stop being held hostage by the right-wing Tea Party.  On Friday afternoon, Democrat Steny Hoyer said Democrats have made all the compromises and Republicans need to step up, “We’ve moved a long way because we agree we need to cut spending.  We’ve come 70% of the way.”


Republicans say making tough cuts now will prevent passing debt onto future generations.  Earlier on Friday, Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “A bill that fails to include real spending cuts and hurt job growth and signals Washington isn’t serious about dealing with its spending addiction.”


But with only a few hours left until parts of the government shut down including nonessential government agencies, museums, and NASA, even if a deal is reached Congress will have to scramble to digest the agreement and vote on it without any changes before the 04g Saturday deadline.  An estimated 500,000 visitors to museums and national parks will be turned away this weekend if Congress can’t figure it out. 



If a deal is reached, Congress could pass another temporary spending measure for a few days to debate the agreement.  Or if no deal is reached, Congressional leaders and the White House could scramble all weekend to reach a compromise before an estimated 800,000 federal workers get furloughed on Monday.  Or if the two sides can’t reach an agreement over the weekend and dig in for the long haul, government workers will sit at home and Wall Street will grow jittery over government contracts not being paid.      


While it’s unclear if or how long a shutdown will occur, what is clear is that this will be the norm of debate on contentious issues between Democrats and Republicans for the next year.  Among the difficult issues the two sides have to tackle are the debt ceiling and next year’s budget.  Congress never has very high public approval ratings, but with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of Americans furloughed because 535 elected representatives can’t do their job on time, the American public may consider furloughing some of them, permanently.

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