What (or Who) Is ‘Responsible’ in Today’s Fiscal Reality?

.photo.right{display:none;}At a National Journal policy summit, senators and experts play the blame game ahead of looming budget talks.

Sen. Orrin Hatch at Thursday's policy summit hosted by National Journal.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Sept. 12, 2013, 8:09 a.m.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4436) }}

With the end of the fisc­al year just weeks away, Con­gress is feel­ing the pres­sure on passing le­gis­la­tion to keep the gov­ern­ment from shut­ting down that makes both parties happy, or at least, something both sides can tol­er­ate. So far, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans re­main grid­locked. But ac­cord­ing to Sen. Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, it’s not for lack of try­ing.

“Our prob­lem is not the lack of ideas,” said Hatch, a rank­ing mem­ber of the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Fin­ance. “Our prob­lem is the lack of lead­er­ship on the part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and their al­lies in Con­gress.”

Here, Hatch provided an an­swer to the ques­tion posed at a policy sum­mit hos­ted by Na­tion­al Journ­al on Thursday: What is “re­spons­ible” in today’s fisc­al real­ity? Amer­ica’s grow­ing debt, Hatch said, is a res­ult of high gov­ern­ment spend­ing. The sen­at­or said failed at­tempts at rein­ing in this spend­ing have res­ul­ted from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “in­sa­ti­able de­sire to keep in­creas­ing taxes” and re­fus­al “to en­ter­tain any struc­tur­al changes to en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams.”

But the more press­ing mat­ter now is the loom­ing threat of a gov­ern­ment shut­down, which comes to a head on Sept. 30. The House GOP is cur­rently float­ing a $986.3 bil­lion con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that would fund gov­ern­ment pro­grams and ser­vices at cur­rent let­ters. But some of their fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans have a dif­fer­ent idea. They presen­ted on Tues­day a con­cur­rent res­ol­u­tion that states any ap­pro­pri­ation must come with a caveat: de­fund The Af­ford­able Care Act, oth­er­wise known as Obama­care. Hatch said he’s con­fid­ent Con­gress can agree on a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion by the end of the month, but didn’t say which one he backed.

“The clock is tick­ing,” Hatch warned. “We need to act quickly and avoid un­cer­tainty cre­ated by push­ing debt lim­it dis­cus­sion to the last minute.” But, even with the pas­sage of a CR, the pos­sib­il­ity of a Christ­mas­time fisc­al crisis sim­il­ar to that of last year is high.

Robert Green­stein, the pres­id­ent of the non­par­tis­an Cen­ter on Budget and Policy Pri­or­it­ies, put that un­cer­tainty in­to stronger terms when he spoke after the sen­at­or. “If we get to the 11th hour and House Re­pub­lic­ans re­fuse to pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that does not put the dag­ger in­to the Af­ford­able Care Act, then we will have a gov­ern­ment shut­down,” Green­stein said. “If we get to the 11th hour on the debt lim­it and the debt ceil­ing will not be raised in the House “¦ then we ac­tu­ally will have a de­fault.”

Green­stein wasn’t shy about what was re­spons­ible for the coun­try’s cur­rent fisc­al situ­ation. “The main bar­ri­er, Sen. Hatch not­with­stand­ing, is im­plac­able Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion.”

Bill Hoag­land, seni­or vice pres­id­ent of the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter, soun­ded the least op­tim­ist­ic about the up­com­ing CR and debt lim­it dis­cus­sions. “I’ve giv­en up on grand bar­gains,” he said. “There won’t be a grand bar­gain. I’ll take any kind of deal,” A 90-day con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion is un­avoid­able now that budget talks have come down to the wire, Hoag­land said. But it won’t come easy, he said, thanks to the big ele­phant in the room: Syr­ia. With de­vel­op­ments from over­seas com­ing rap­id-fire, it will be dif­fi­cult for Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats alike to fo­cus on do­mest­ic is­sues, even ones with con­sequences like a de­fault.

What We're Following See More »
State Dept. Review Faults Clinton Email Management
17 minutes ago

"A State Department audit has faulted Hillary Clinton and previous secretaries of state for poorly managing email and other computer information and slowly responding to new cybersecurity risks. ... It cites 'longstanding, systemic weaknesses' related to communications. These started before Clinton's appointment as secretary of state, but her failures were singled out as more serious."

Trump Rolls in Washington Primary
34 minutes ago

Donald Trump "was on course to win more than three-quarters of the vote in Washington's primary" last night. Ted Cruz's defunct candidacy still pulled about 10 percent. "Cruz dropped out of the race on May 3, but won 40 of the state's 41 delegates up for grabs at last weekend's state GOP convention."

Trump Rally Turns Violent in New Mexico
58 minutes ago

"What started as a calm protest outside Donald Trump’s rally Tuesday erupted into fiery violence as protesters jumped on police cars, smashed windows and fought with Trump supporters and police. Police faced such an angry crowd that they called in reinforcements from around the state, seeking to double their numbers to counter the protesters, whose numbers swelled beyond 600." Protesters threw rocks and bottles at police, who broke up several fights. 

Hill Dems Mull Dropping Wasserman Schultz
3 hours ago

Concerned that she's become too divisive, "Democrats on Capitol Hill are discussing whether Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz should step down as Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairwoman before the party’s national convention in July. ... Wasserman Schultz has had an increasingly acrimonious relationship with the party’s other presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, and his supporters, who argue she has tilted the scales in Clinton’s favor." The money quote, from a Democratic senator who backs Clinton: “There have been a lot of meetings over the past 48 hours about what color plate do we deliver Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s head on." Meanwhile, Newsweek takes a look at why no one seems to like Wasserman Schultz.

House Votes Today on Bill to Strip Budget Autonomy from DC
3 hours ago

"The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote Wednesday on a Republican bill that would block the District of Columbia from spending locally raised tax revenue without congressional approval, prompting President Obama to pledge to veto it. In issuing the veto threat on Tuesday, the Obama White House made one of the strongest statements to date in support of the District’s attempt to win financial independence from Congress."