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.

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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.

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