In all the coverage of the shutdown of the federal government forced by House Speaker John Boehner, little has been shared on how things got to this point. Too much of the coverage portrays the budget process as a food fight over one issue. Yet, examining the process that created the brinkmanship of Speaker Boehner and the irresponsible decision making that got us here, this needs to be laid out.
Since receiving the budget proposal from President Barack Obama in early February, the House of Representatives under Boehner was in session 106 out of 171 working days until Sept. 30, when the House should have completed its work on the federal appropriations process. The budget process involves Congress passing 12 appropriations bills to fund the various federal agencies and a reconciliation bill to handle taxes and mandatory expenditures.
On March 29, the House voted on a budget resolution that started the appropriations process. Ten Republicans voted against the budget resolution, but all the “yeas” for the resolution came from the Republican Caucus; hardly a “bipartisan” document. The House passed eight appropriations bills, but only the legislative branch appropriation, the military construction and the Department of Veteran Affairs could be called bipartisan. The House failed to pass the other four appropriations bills for the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, State and Treasury and the Environmental Protection Agency and national security agencies.
So we got to Sept. 30 with Boehner having done only a portion of the job under his responsibility. Far from listening to Democrats in the House, he did force through a budget resolution with no votes from Democrats; and received concurrence from Democrats on only two of the eight appropriations bills that were passed. Objectively, then, Boehner has no evidence to offer that he works in a bipartisan fashion, or that the appropriations process was slowed by the White House after Boehner held Congress in session for only 60% of business days to do its work on the budget. When Congress fails to act in a timely fashion, it must pass a continuing resolution to let the government operate while Congress finishes the appropriations process; giving itself an extension to finish its work.
So, can there be little surprise with Obama’s response when Boehner insists that either the president adopt a Republican budget proposal or shut down the entire government? The Senate Democrats are proposing a continuing resolution based on more severe budget caps than the House worked with. As a result, the proposal from the Senate Democrats is to continue funding the government but with huge cuts in non-defense discretionary spending from President Obama’s budget proposal. The Senate Democrats cap non-defense spending $133 billion below the president’s budget submission. So can there be little surprise with Obama’s response to Boehner’s demands when the president has said he will sign a continuing resolution that slashes his budget proposal? Clearly, it is Boehner who stands in opposition to a reasonable solution to the situation we are in.
With the timeline in mind, and with the huge compromise the president is indicating he is willing to make on his budget proposal, the current shutdown is clearly the result of Speaker Boehner insisting on the acceptance of his uncompromised position and inability to get done with the appropriations process in a timely fashion.
Now, why is Congress having such a difficult time in doing its job on appropriations? Because five years after the fall of the financial sector, mainstream America is still down several million jobs and families in the middle are still down several thousand dollars in income. Yet, Congress continues to be obsessed with deficit reduction. And, the cuts the House of Representatives gave to maintaining our investment in America’s education and health in the House budget resolution were too big to get passed by the House-even the Republican majority in the House when that specific appropriation bill was brought out of committee.
Clearly, the current collision course is the reckless work of Boehner making political points with a bloc in his caucus and disregarding the needs of the American people. Failing to whip his caucus into slashing investments America needs for the future, he is nonetheless trying to bully the president to take the fall with him. With job growth moderating, Boehner is delaying federal contracting processes and hurting current contracts that many small business owners need to keep their doors open or expand to hire more workers. Risking the economic health of the nation to score political points shows Boehner is disconnected from the realities of Main Street.
Being an obstructionist plays well to the base of the tea party bloc in Speaker Boehner’s caucus. The tea party is convinced we don’t need government anyway. But to women who need access to child care so they can work, and mothers who need the assistance of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program to provide food for their babies, it matters if government is working. To the small business owners trying to line up loan assistance from the Small Business Administration to expand and hire more workers, it matters if government is working.
The tragedy for America is that the compromise being offered will lock in place the sequestration that will continue to shrink the investments America needs in schooling, roads and bridges. What we really need is a true alternative-ending the sequestration and protecting our earned Social Security and Medicare benefits. The real voice of America is being locked out of the conversation. We want teachers to return to our children’s classrooms and we need the services we lost because of the Great Recession’s effect on local budgets. Instead, now thanks to Speaker Boehner and his political agenda, we are locked out of our own parks and memorials.
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