Ugly: Washington At War Over Budget, Debt Talks

Posted: Jul 13, 2011 5:49 PM

Events are moving rapidly on the budget and debt negotiations, and a lot of the developments are quite important.  I must confess that I'm a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming information, but I'll do my best to summarize as completely -- yet succinctly -- as possible.

On the budget (or lack thereof) -  It has now been 805 days since Senate Democrats even introduced a budget.  The ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions, has reached the end of his rope, and has announced his intention to obstruct any and all appropriations (ie, spending) bills in the Senate until an actual budget is offered.  The details are a bit arcane, but basically, Sessions is pledging to raise a point of order every single time an appropriations bill is raised on the floor.  This would require a 60-vote majority to set aside his objection, and the time he'd be granted to address point of order is unlimited.  In other words, he could launch "old school" filibusters to rip Democrats for their failure to follow the law and produce a budget.  I'm told he may engage in his first lengthy soliloquy tomorrow -- which could be pretty explosive for the following reason: 

The first appropriations bill Sessions likely to object to, by pure coincidence, is a military funding bill.  Democrats will likely exploit this opportunity to demonize Sessions and demagogue the issue. (Why does Jeff Sessions hate the troops?) Sessions' rejoinder will be that he's simply trying to force Democrats into revealing their budget outline, which they're currently hiding from the public.  Not only does their outline reportedly hike taxes by trillions of dollars -- color me...not shocked -- it also guts military spending by $900 Billion dollars, while leaving entitlements relatively unscathed.  President Obama's erstwhile Defense Secretary has warned that the Pentagon cannot absorb any sizable cuts at a time when we're engaged in three wars.  $900 Billion in military cuts is reckless and dangerous, but it's what the Democrats' budget will call for -- if they ever show it to us.  So they should spare us the 'what about the troops?' lectures.

On the Biden-led debt ceiling negotiations - National Review's Rich Lowry has been tweeting some stunning leaked information from the latest round of talks:

@RichLowry - hearing that cuts in the biden talks are dwindling away to nothing--repubs thot they'd agreed to 500bill or so in mandtry; now less than 300

@RichLowry - plus, dems want new spending as part of the package: pell grants, unemployment, dox fix, nih. it's a nightmare

@RichLowry - and then there are the new taxes--apparently $200bil or so

Simply jaw-dropping.  Democrats are stripping out many of the cuts (real or Beltway-phony, we don't know), while insisting on hundreds of billions in tax increases, and demanding new spending as part of this deal.  "Stuck on spend" doesn't quite do this insane posture justice.  I've reached out to a number of GOP sources to try to confirm what Lowry is hearing.  Various aides have told me they have no specific information, but say these reports seem credible, if only based on a number of previous news reports along similar lines.  Do Republicans have any choice but to walk away from this nonsense?  Anyone coming around to Mitch McConnell's position that playing along with this charade and hoping for a magical "better deal" isn't worthwhile? 

On President Obama's plan - Over to you, CBS News' Mark Knoller:

@markknoller - WH unwilling to disclose details of Pres Obama's deficit reduction plan. Jay Carney says the WH has "made clear" what we are willing to do.

@markknoller For some reason, Carney dismissed suggestion that talks might go better if open to press coverage and not in the shadow of closed doors.

Transparent leadership!

On the debt itself - Breaking news, and it ain't pretty:

Moody’s Investors Service put the U.S. under review for a credit rating downgrade as talks to raise the government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit stall, adding to concern that political gridlock will lead to a default. The Aaa ratings of financial institutions directly linked to the U.S. government, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Banks, and the Federal Farm Credit Banks, were also put on review for cuts, Moody’s said in a statement today. The U.S., rated Aaa since 1917, was put on review for the first time since 1995.

A downgrade in our national credit rating is exactly the disaster both parties are seeking to prevent or forestall in their negotiations.  If the US gets downgraded, the cost of our borrowing will increase, which is an ugly step in a downward debt spiral.  Kevin Williamson has a solution:

With the debt-ceiling negotiations apparently at something like a practical impasse, Congress should act now to pass a very narrowly tailored bill that would permit the issuance of new debt — but only for the purpose of financing current debt service. Such a measure was suggested by David Rivkin and Lee Casey back in May, and this would be an excellent time to advance it.

Passing such legislation is good politics and necessary policy. If the Democrats were to take a stand against it, they would be in effect dragging the nation toward the possibility of default — a possibility I still regard as remote, but one that you don’t really want to take a single step toward.

This would also neutralize President Obama's disingenuous scare tactics on Social Security checks not getting mailed out due to a "Republican-caused" default.  As would this GOP counter-measure.  Hey, didn't the president say something about scare tactics recently?

In short, things are tense here in DC.  So much dysfunction.  So little leadership.  Such enormous messes to clean up.  Is it 2012 yet?