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

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
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Marina Koren
Sept. 12, 2013, 8:09 a.m.

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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