The budget conference committee will begin meeting this week to develop a budget before the December 13th deadline. Hardly anyone is aware of the talks because the media is consumed with Merkle’s cell phone and the Republican four-year obsession with Obamacare. The last government shut down and the near default on our debt are old news—or so the public believes.
Congress just took a breather on the road to economic calamity. The budget talks are doomed to failure. Republicans still want to kill Obamacare and will not let something like the debt ceiling or outcry over another government shut-down stop them. The parties are hopelessly divided. Acrimony has not lessened-- it is worse. We are in the same place we were two months before the last shut down.
There are several reasons for the this pessimism. History suggests the House-Senate budget committee will fail. The Simpson-Bowles Commission’s deficit-reduction proposals in 2010 went nowhere. The two budget committees in Congress haven’t met together in years; the “supercommittee” designed to prevent automatic cuts under sequestration in 2011 deadlocked in a stalemate. There are still other reasons.
First of all, the political players are the same and they are appealing to the same political base they were before. Next year’s election is closer. Politicians do not govern in election years, they posture. Expecting the members of Congress to all the sudden act differently now than they did three weeks ago is folly.
Secondly, the “default caucus” in the GOP—58% of all Republicans in Congress, has not given up its one and only priority—getting rid of Obamacare. The ring leaders of the default-caucus are on the stump firing up Republicans against the 42% who voted to end the shut down and pay our debts. They are aided and abetted by the likes of Republican opinion leaders like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Bill O’Reilley, and Ann Coulter.
Thirdly, for a conference committee to succeed there has to be compromise. The majority of Congressional Republicans-- 58%-- reject the word compromise let alone the practice. That is why the government shut down last time. Nothing has changed. The same people playing by the same rules.
Fourthly, problems with the Obamacare website have emboldened Republicans. They were discouraged that their strategy failed last time. The website problems and the 24/7 coverage of it by the media have emboldened Republicans. It is like blood in shark infested waters. The 58% see no reason to back down on their number one goal of killing Obamacare.
More importantly, the talks will fail because the parties have different perceptions of reality on what the problem is and how to fix it. Republicans believe The U.S. budget deficit is worse than ever. The say taxes have already been raised, so the efforts of the budget talks should focus only on spending. If Democrats want to reduce specific cuts under sequestration they must agree to reductions in what they call “entitlements”—Social Security and Medicare.
The chief Republican negotiator, Paul Ryan, voted to keep the government closed, and to default on our debt. He has put forth a dusted-off version of the old “Ryan Budget” which essentially privatizes Medicare. If Ryan learned nothing from his defeat last November, he will never change his perception of what Americans want.
Republicans and Fox News have been successful in their misinformation campaign about the deficit. Polling shows 59% of Americans believe the deficit is getting worse. The truth is the deficit has been cut in half since Obama took office. It is not a “trillion dollar deficit” like Republicans say, it is about half that amount, and under current law will be even lower next year.
Furthermore, Republicans have convinced their base that Obamacare is driving the deficits. The truth is the opposite. Obamacare will reduce the deficit by at least $300 billion over ten years.
Since Republicans have sold their base lies about the deficit, then they have no choice but to take a hard line to slash spending even more regardless of whether it puts the nation back into a recession. Republicans have boxed themselves in by lies. Now they must live the lie. Compromise is unspeakable.
We live in perilous times. Our enemy is within—our own Congress.