For a Congress Suffering Budget Fatigue, a Cure Is in Sight

As the budget deal approaches, lawmakers envision a future without major fiscal fights.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-MD) (C) heads to the House of Representatives floor for a vote on a budget continuing resolution that would fund the federal government but postpone the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year at the U.S. Capitol September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. If House Republicans do not find common ground with President Obama and Senate Democrats on the federal budget by midnight, segments of the federal government will close, hundreds of thousands of workers would be furloughed without pay and millions more would be asked to work for no pay.
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Billy House
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Billy House
Dec. 15, 2013, 7:10 a.m.

When the Sen­ate takes up the budget agree­ment this week, it will bring more than just fisc­al re­lief.

For law­makers, it will end four years of op­er­at­ing without a budget and boun­cing from crisis to crisis, topped by a gov­ern­ment shut­down that forced many to trim staff. Call it budget fa­tigue.

“That’s a good way of put­ting it,” says Rep. Al­cee Hast­ings, D-Fla.

The con­stant fisc­al battles of re­cent years sucked up band­width in Con­gress. They landed law­makers in fights that could not be won, taint­ing the polit­ics and ec­lipsing oth­er im­port­ant is­sues. The lop­sided and bi­par­tis­an pas­sage of what is uni­ver­sally re­ferred to as a small budget deal in the House on Thursday shows how eager some law­makers are to move on.

“They are look­ing for­ward to do­ing the things we want to do in­stead of fight­ing over shut­downs all the time,” said Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an last week. “We’re just happy that we’re get­ting this place work­ing again.”

Of course, the com­prom­ise agree­ment, in bill form that is ex­pec­ted to pass in the Sen­ate this week—a clo­ture vote is ex­pec­ted on Tues­day—is nobody’s ver­sion of per­fect. 

And still to be worked out are ap­pro­pri­ations bills show­ing how spend­ing will be parsed for this fisc­al year and next. The bills should be passed by Jan. 15, when the cur­rent spend­ing mech­an­ism for gov­ern­ment ex­pires — and those could cause battles of their own.

In ad­di­tion, the debt-ceil­ing sus­pen­sion runs out Feb. 7, po­ten­tially spark­ing re­newed fight­ing over gov­ern­ment bor­row­ing, al­though the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice says vari­ous cash-man­age­ment strategies at the Treas­ury De­part­ment could push the pro­spect of de­fault in­to March or later.

But for now, Con­gress is ven­tur­ing in­to har­mon­ic ter­rit­ory that it has not walked for some time.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., says that budget wear­i­ness is real, but adds that it ex­tends to the Amer­ic­an pub­lic. “I think there’s a little fa­tigue on their part from all of this mess,” he said.

Rep. Tom Price, the No. 2 Re­pub­lic­an after Ry­an on the Budget Com­mit­tee, agrees that much of the coun­try is tired.

“When I’m home, what I hear from folks is we’ve got to get something done,” he said. “The un­cer­tainty that is out there, the frus­tra­tion that people have is real. That is trans­lated to us as well. We can’t con­tin­ue to lurch from crisis to crisis to crisis and ex­pect any wise de­cisions are go­ing to come out of it.”

He ad­ded: “I think this re­lieves a lot of pres­sure. I think it lowers the tem­per­at­ure, and hope­fully makes it so we can get some real things done on the policy side.”

Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Re­pub­lic­an, calls the con­stant budget and fisc­al tur­moil “a drag.”

Thompson said the long string of tem­por­ary, stop-gap budget meas­ures in lieu of real deals has hindered le­gis­lat­ive work to solve oth­er prob­lems law­makers need to ad­dress. “I have noth­ing good to say about con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tions. That’s not only a drag. That’s a night­mare,” he said. “This puts us back in­to reg­u­lar or­der and for a two-year pro­cess. It’s pretty ex­cit­ing from my per­spect­ive. And we didn’t raise taxes to do it.”

Still, for some, there will be linger­ing re­sent­ment and budget-war wounds.

“The real­ity is, we’re a little over $17 tril­lion in debt — and if we con­tin­ue on that path, it will harm this coun­try in the way no mil­it­ary power has ever been able to do,” said Rep. Trent Franks, an Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­an. “Con­sequently, those of us con­cerned about that grow a little weary of our friends on the left be­ing un­able to see the train that is com­ing at all of us.

“And we are the ones por­trayed as the bad guys,” he said.

But Hast­ings is op­tim­ist­ic that a new era of bi­par­tis­an budget co­oper­a­tion has dawned. “My hope is this is just the be­gin­ning,” he said.

Rep. Ger­ald Con­nolly, a Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat, says that what law­makers are feel­ing isn’t just budget-battle fa­tigue.

“I think that un­der­states it. This is something else. This is maybe a re­cog­ni­tion that we’ve gone too far in our con­stant fight­ing,” he said. “We can’t go home and play the same old song.”

As he put it, “Even we are tired of it.”

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story in­cor­rectly stated that Pres­id­ent Obama would not have to sign the budget agree­ment for it to be­come law.

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