Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Maybe it doesn't matter, but...

I wish Obama would clarify, when laying out his current position on budget negotiations (as in today's press conference), that 1) he and Democrats in Congress have already agreed to the funding levels stipulated in the House GOP's bill funding the government for the next two months, and 2) what he's willing to negotiate is a bill funding the government on new terms for the rest of FY 2014 and the years beyond. In statements like this...
At the beginning of this year Speaker Boehner said, what we want is regular order and a serious budget process. So the Senate should pass a bill and the House should pass a bill, and then a committee comes together and they hash out their differences and they send the bill to the president. Well, that's exactly what Democrats did.

Except somewhere along the way, House Republicans decided they wouldn't appoint people to the committee to try to negotiate, and 19 times they've rejected that. So even after all that, the Democrats in the Senate still passed a budget that effectively reflects Republican priorities at Republican budget levels just to keep the government open, and the House Republicans couldn't do that either.
...it remains unclear what Democrats agreed to (Republican spending levels in a 6-10 week continuing resolution), what they've balked at (a litany and sequence of demands extraneous to that short-term funding), and what Obama is willing to negotiate if/when the threats of government shutdown and debt default are removed (funding for the remaining 9-10 months of FY 2014 and a long-term replacement of the sequester with a mix of more targeted spending cuts, including to entitlements, and revenue-yielding reductions in tax loopholes).

Obama does sketch this out in general terms. But it seems to me that if you don't follow federal budgeting processes closely, the exposition below might come across as something of a muddle:
And as I said, this one isn't even about deficits or spending or budgets. Our deficits are falling at the fastest pace in 60 years. The budget that the Senate passed is at Republican spending levels. It's their budget that Democrats were willing to put votes on just to make sure the government was open while negotiations took place for a longer-term budget. And what's happened -- the way we got to this point was one thing and one thing only, and that was Republican obsession with dismantling the Affordable Care Act and denying health care to millions of people. That law ironically is moving forward.

So most Americans, Democrats and Republicans, agree that health care should not have anything to do with keeping our government open or paying our bills on time, which is why I will sit down and work with anyone of any party, not only to talk about the budget; I'll talk about ways to improve the health care system.

I'll talk about ways that we can shrink our long-term deficits. I'll also want to talk about how we're going to help the middle class strengthen early childhood education and improve our infrastructure and research and development. There are a whole bunch of things I want to talk about in terms of how we're going to make sure that everybody's getting a fair shake in this society and that our economy's growing in a broad-based way and building our middle class.

And by the way, if anybody doubts my sincerity about that, I've put forward proposals in my budget to reform entitlement programs for the long haul and reform our tax code in a way that would close loopholes for the wealthiest and lower rates for corporations and help us invest in new jobs and reduce our deficits. And some of these were originally Republican proposals, because I don't believe any party has a monopoly on good ideas. So I've shown myself willing to go more than halfway in these conversations, and if reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again, I'm ready to head up to the Hill and try. I'll even spring for dinner again.

But I'm not going to do it until the more extreme parts of the Republican Party stop forcing John Boehner to issue threats about our economy. We can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy. Democracy doesn't function this way. And this is not just for me; it's also for my successors in office. Whatever party they're from, they shouldn't have to pay a ransom either for Congress doing its basic job. We've got to put a stop to it.
There's a bit of short-term vs. long-term in there. But why was a short-term spending bill needed? What comes next, if/when the hostage threats are removed?

Even in the exchange below, I'd want it explained that the fiscal year ended Oct. 1,  a short-term CR was needed to avoid the shutdown we're now having:
Sam Stein: Thank you, Mr. President. With Speaker Boehner so far unwilling to hold a vote on a clean CR, what assurances can you give to those affected by a shutdown who are concerned about an even longer impasse? And how worried are you personally that your preferred solution to this clean CR and sequestration levels may do harm to the nation's economy and your second-term agenda?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I mean, Sam, you're making an important point, which is what we're asking of the Republicans right now is to keep the government open at funding levels that Democrats think are very harmful to the economy and inadequate to make sure that the economy is growing faster, more people are put back to work and the middle glass is growing. We're willing to pass at least a short-term budget that opens up the government at current funding levels. It doesn't even address the harm that's been done because of sequestration.

Now, the Democrats have a budget that would eliminate sequestration, this meat cleaver approach to deficit reduction, and make sure that we're adequately funding basic medical research and Head Start programs and VA programs and a whole range of things that have been really hard-hit this year. But we recognize that there are going to have be some compromises between the Democratic position and the Republican position. And in the meantime, we shouldn't hurt the economy even worse by shutting down the government.
Why are Democrats asking Republicans to keep the government open at spending levels that Democrats think are harmful to the economy? Not quite nailed down. Perhaps this is a job for the Secretary of Explaining Stuff.*

*Couldn't resist the flip ending, but I'm not sure that Clinton is better at communicating policy than Obama is.  It's largely afterglow, and the difference in reception for a president who presided over full employment vs. one who's grinding out an agonizingly slow recovery. 

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