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Senate OKs Bill to Avert Shutdown September 27, 2011

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , add a comment

After a heated battle between Dems and GOP over disaster aid, the Senate votes to send a temporary spending bill to the House to avoid a government shutdown.

The vote in the Senate was 79 to 12 to fund the government through Nov. 18, giving the two sides more time to haggle over long-term spending levels. The Senate also approved an even shorter-term spending bill — funding the government into next week — by a voice vote to give the House time to reconvene and approve the followup.

The breakthrough came hours after the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated it had enough money for disaster relief efforts through Friday. That disclosure allowed lawmakers to jettison a $1 billion replenishment that had been included in the measure — and to crack the gridlock it had caused.

The events assured there would be no interruption in assistance in areas battered by disasters such as Hurricane Irene and last summer’s tornados in Joplin, Mo., and also that the government would be able to run normally when the new budget year begins on Saturday.

The agreement also spelled the end to the latest in a string of political standoffs between Democrats and Republicans over deficits, spending and taxes that have rattled financial markets and coincided with polls showing congressional approval ratings at historically low levels.

“This compromise should satisfy Republicans…and it should satisfy Democrats,” said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who added that Budget Director Jacob Lew had informed him that FEMA did not need any additional funding to meet its needs for the final few days of the budget year.

“It’s a win for everyone,” Reid declared.

House Speaker John Boehner’s office argued that the GOP was never opposed to disaster aid, just the process for approving the aid.

“Senate Democrats have conceded that the spending level in the House-passed bill was the most responsible solution,” Boehner spokesman Mike Steel said in a written statement. “If it weren’t for House GOP efforts, the American taxpayers would have been on the hook for even more reckless borrowing by Washington Democrats.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the latest legislation was a “reasonable way to keep the government operational.”

But not even the dispute-resolving agreement prevented Democrats from proceeding to a politically charged vote earlier in the evening that was designed to force Republicans to decide whether immediate aid to disaster victims or deficit concerns held a higher priority.

And the rhetoric was far harsher during the day on the Senate floor, when Mary Landrieu, D-La., unleashed an unusually personal attack on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., saying the weeks-long controversy started when he said, “Before we can provide help we need to find offsets in the budget.”

She called that “the Cantor doctrine” and said the controversy “could have been avoided if Cantor had just said, `I’m sorry, but I made a mistake.’ But instead of saying that, he doubled down,” she said.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Cantor, responded that the Virginia Republican had “never said the things she alleged, he has only suggested that we ought to provide disaster aid dollars to those who need them in a responsible way — something that she’s voted to block despite the urgent need.”

In fact, House Republicans insisted that any new disaster aid for the expiring budget year be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, a decision that Democrats seized on in hopes of reshaping the political terrain to their advantage.

Hours earlier, FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen, said the agency had $114 million left in its disaster relief fund, enough to last until Thursday or Friday, the final business day of the current budget year. She said the exact timing would depend on the number of emergency victims who apply for aid, and whether any new disasters occur.

FEMA officials had said previously the funds would run out early this week. That concern prompted the Obama administration a few weeks ago to ask Congress to approve a replenishment to tide the agency over through the Sept. 30 end to the fiscal year.

House Republicans agreed weeks ago to provide $1 billion and include the money in a bill that also provides money for most federal agencies for the first few weeks of the 2012 budget year. At the same time, they insisted on cutting spending elsewhere in the budget by $1.5 billion to prevent the deficit from rising, an amount later raised to $1.6 billion.

That, in turn, produced a quick attack from Senate Democrats, who opposed cuts.

While it was unclear precisely how long FEMA’s remaining funds would last, one official said the agency began conserving funds last month as Hurricane Irene approached the U.S. mainland, prioritizing its aid to help individual disaster victims and pay states and local governments for immediate needs such as removing debris and building sand bag barricades.

Funding of $450 million has been put on hold for longer-term needs such as reconstruction of damaged roads, the official said. In addition, the agency has been able to reclaim unused money from past disasters, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.

Who won the budget fight? April 9, 2011

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by Barry Carr

Round One…

As everyone knows by now, the Great Government Shutdown of 2011 has been called off … or at least postponed.  Republicans finished what the Democrats wouldn’t by clinching a budget deal late last night, finishing up the FY2011 budget with a total reduction in spending of $49 billion:

Under the terms of the agreement, the six-month bill will slash $38.5 billion from current spending levels, which is $23 billion less than the reductions Republicans originally demanded but $30 billion more than what Democrats had initially offered to cut.

President Obama praised the budget compromise and the prevention of a shutdown. He warned the cuts would affect services and infrastructure work, even as he acknowledged the need for spending reductions. “I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances,” Obama said.

The bill does not include a Republican provision to de-fund Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services for women, including abortion. The Planned Parenthood provision was one of the main sticking points during the negotiations, with the GOP insisting it remain in the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to remove the Planned Parenthood provision in exchange for an agreement that would allow Congress to take up the funding issue separately.The Republicans also won inclusion of a provision that will require the Senate to vote on a bill to de-fund the health care reform law.

Another provision won by Republicans would prohibit the District of Columbia from spending local or federal funds on abortion services.

This looks less like a victory for either side and more of a five-month truce.  The fight to cut just a tiny slice of the overall budget took months to resolve, and all of these issue will arise again in September when Congress has to pass the FY2012 budget.  Don’t expect the fight to get any easier, at least not on discretionary spending.

But that’s not the big problem anyway.  The big problem in the budget is entitlement spending, which will require months to review for reform.  The only proposal on the table for that at the moment is Ryan’s plan.  The other option would be to consider the Bowles-Simpson plan, but since Bowles and Simpson both gave at least praise for Ryan’s proposal, Ryan has the momentum.  Now, with FY2011 off the table, the House can move forward on serious entitlement reform that will give an actual opportunity to get significant reductions to the deficit and start us on the path of fiscal sanity.

We’ll see who won in September, but Republicans have achieved one major accomplishment.  Not only did they force the first actual reductions in government spending in ages, but they have changed the political paradigm from whether to cut to how much and where to cut.  That’s a pretty impressive victory for a party that only controls one chamber of Congress.

Democrats have spent the last four months arguing that Republicans were too radical to govern and wanted to destroy government.  Instead, Republicans fashioned a deal on their own terms and passed a budget deal — something Democrats couldn’t or wouldn’t do when they had all the power in DC.

 This gives the GOP a lot of credibility on leadership and governance, and all of it at the expense of Harry Reid and Barack Obama.

Dems Learn Wrong Lessons from 1995 Government Shutdown February 24, 2011

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by Barry Carr

Democrats are fanning fears of a government shutdown on the belief that they would benefit politically, but they could be making a dangerous assumption.

The model for the current budget impasse is the 1995 stalemate between a Republican-controlled Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton. A wily Clinton politically outmaneuvered then-Speaker Newt Gingrich to turn the 20-day shutdown into a bruising PR defeat for the year-old Republican majority.

While Clinton had to eventually sacrifice on substance and put forward a budget that reflected much of what Gingrich and the Republicans wanted, he had set the narrative for his reelection campaign the next year: Clinton the moderate versus the radical Republicans in Congress.

That media narrative, combined with independent Ross Perot siphoning away mostly Republican votes in swing states, helped Clinton capture an 8-point victory in November of 1996.

As Democrats today talk about the looming March 4 deadline to extend government funding, they have grown rather nostalgic for the mid 1990s.

“I think anyone who was here in 1995 knows the disastrous result that occurs when you throw down the gauntlet and say it has to be this way,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told the Wall Street Journal.

Schumer said he thought Boehner was a “smart guy” who wanted to avoid the consequences of a shutdown but wondered whether Boehner could control freshman members who lack the memory of the Clinton-Gingrich shutdown.

That seems to be what Schumer and his Democratic colleagues are betting on.

House Republicans last weekend passed a bill to fund the government for the seven months of the fiscal year from the start of March to the end of September with cuts of $61 billion from current spending levels.

The response from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday was a proposal to continue spending for one month at current levels while negotiations continue. But under the Reid plan, there would be only six months left in the year for cuts and the $61 billion proposed by Republicans would automatically shrink to $52.3 billion.

Every week that current spending rates continue means another $2.2 billion less that would be cut under the Republicans’ plan. A long debate benefits Democrats who argue that keeping spending at current stimulus levels is necessary to prevent an economic downturn and the layoff of government workers, who constitute the core of the party’s political base.

House Republicans, even the “smart” Boehner, were incensed by Reid’s answer, which amounted to no cuts now and less time for cuts later.

Meanwhile, President Obama, who said he was waiting for Republicans to be ready for an “adult” conversation about spending, is out in support of his own 2012 budget that calls for new outlays for Democratic pet projects and would add $1.1 trillion to the national debt next year.

With Reid blowing off the Republican spending plan, the president offering no cuts to current spending or future entitlement growth and the administration talking publicly about advance preparations for a government shutdown, Democrats seem to be daring Boehner and the House Republicans to dig in and force a shutdown.

This Democratic brinksmanship, though, may be based on the false assumption that a shutdown now would play out the way it did in 1995.

There are some major differences.

In 1995, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, as opposed to the divided Congress of today. The GOP has only a third of the decision-making power in this scenario, making it much harder to pin the blame on them.

The personalities are different, too. Just as Obama lacks the political skills of Bill Clinton when it comes to making his case to the electorate, Boehner is a more sympathetic figure than Gingrich. Gingrich famously took a pounding for telling reporters that his decision to take the battle to the brink was partly due to Clinton forcing the speaker to ride in the back of Air Force One. Low-key Boehner would make a less-effective foil for Democrats.

There’s also the media environment. In many ways, 1995 was the last year of the old media world. It was the year before the launch of FOX News and the year before the Internet exploded into American life. The three broadcast television networks and the major newspapers still had a stranglehold on political news in 1995. Shaping the public narrative would be much harder for Democrats in today’s more diffuse and more balanced media world.

Then there’s the public’s attitude on government spending. Polls consistently show that government spending and deficits are the top concerns for about a quarter of voters. Only the economy is of concern to a great share of the electorate.

In 1995, debt and spending were bottom-tier issues in most polls. That makes some sense. In 1995, the federal government was $4.97 trillion in debt. Today, it’s more than $14 trillion in the hole, a sum equal to the size of our entire economy. It is hard to imagine that protesters would not flock to Washington in support of a shutdown if Obama and Reid tried to brush back Boehner on cuts.

A divided Congress, a mild-mannered Republican speaker, a competitive media environment and growing public concern over debt all add up to a tougher environment for Democrats to profit politically from a shutdown.

Mark Twain told us that “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” If Democrats rely too heavily on the 1995 model for the current budget battle, they may find themselves out of tune.