Here we go Again.

Posted on September 6, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By James Scott

Congress returns to Washington from its summer recess, ready to again do battle over whether or not the federal debt ceiling should be raised to avoid a government shutdown sometime in the middle of next month.

The Republicans, led by House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio are promising a pitched battle and if the government gets shut down, well, so be it. President Obama, meanwhile, has vowed that the administration will not negotiate with congressional Republicans.

If this sounds familiar, it should. This same scenario has played out every time the federal government’s borrowing authority needed to be increased over the last several years. The Republicans have tied upping the borrowing authority to a list of demands and the president has said he will not yield.

The good news is that every time both sides have realized the folly in their behavior and face-saving compromises have been crafted.

Still, this Congress, which by some measures is the least productive in history, heads toward the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1 without having passed a single spending bill, not one. Add to that the mid-October debt ceiling deadline and it’s easy to see why federal employees might be well advised to prepare for some time off this fall.

One big problem with government closures, aside from the fact that nothing gets done and the national parks are closed, is that they don’t save money. In fact, they cost money. So there is no political mileage for either party in allowing the government to shut down.

What it really comes down to is gaming the political system. Boehner said as much last week, speaking to the Idaho Statesman during a fund raising trip to the Gem State. “What I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

Leveraging the political process is not how democratic governments are supposed to work.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Boehner in a letter August 26 that even “extraordinary measures” won’t protect the government from running out of money by mid October.

“Under any circumstance — in light of its schedule, the inherent variability of cash flows, and the dire consequences of miscalculation — Congress must act before the middle of October,” Lew wrote.

“Congress should act as soon as possible to protect America’s good credit by extending normal borrowing authority well before any risk of default becomes imminent,” he  added.

Allowing the government to shut down is not even a smart move from a political perspective. Remember the shutdowns 1995 and 1996, when Republicans refused to accept President Clinton’s veto of the budget sent to him by the Republican controlled Congress? It left the political career of Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican, badly damaged and helped Clinton coast to reelection over Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who had been the Senate majority leader.
While Obama’s favorability ratings are not exactly sterling, Congress is the most unpopular political institution in America, and perhaps the most unpopular ever.
This is why.

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