Big deal & short memory
My brother is nine years younger than I am. When he turned 13, I asked him what he’d like for his birthday present. He said, without hesitating, “A million dollars.”
I didn’t hesitate either. I wrote a check and handed it to him.
He was gleeful. Later, when my dad explained to him that the bank would never give him a million dollars, his joy evaporated. Obviously, having maybe $2,000 in my account, I had no concern that the bank would expect me to make the check good or charge me an overdraft fee.
This is the game Congress is now playing with the national budget.
Congress is so proud of itself. Both the House and the Senate passed budget bills last week. In fact, to avoid a crisis next year, Congress passed a two-year budget bill, an idea that has been floated by some since Congress is elected for a two-year cycle.
This budget was the first major bipartisan legislation Congress has passed since President Obama was elected. (Don’t expect that to happen again.)
More House Republicans supported the bill than Democrats with 169 Republicans voting for the bill and only 62 against it. Though only 12 Republican senators supported it, the 67-33 vote was well above the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Leaders of both parties in both chambers declared that the Tea Party’s influence had finally been pushed aside. (Don’t hold your breath on that either.)
The budget deal was rather modest. For the most part, it continued government spending at last year levels. It didn’t raise taxes, reduce entitlements or address health care costs. The bill restored — that is, increased — military and other spending by $63 billion that was cut last year by the so-called sequester when Congress couldn’t agree on a budget. This compromise will reduce this year’s deficit by $23 billion compared to last year. Even so, the total deficit for the year will be $600 billion.
Like my brother holding his check for $1 million, Congress seemed delighted with itself.
But also like my brother realizing that his check was worthless, Congressional Republicans on the next day were out in force proclaiming that the same deficit spending they had just supported was too high. And to prove their commitment to cut spending, they announced that they would not allow the government to borrow money beyond the debt ceiling — the maximum the federal government can borrow — without “taking hostages.”
In other words, Congressional Republicans overwhelmingly approved a budget before announcing that it would not provide the money to pay for it.
That check I gave my brother was intended to be a joke, and when he realized that, he wasn’t happy. The budget Congress passed was not intended to be a joke, but it’s going to look like one when Republicans refuse to finance it. Congressional Republicans are counting on the public forgetting that they voted for this budget because they will surely blame the Democrats for wasteful deficit spending.
It’s been over 40 years since I gave my brother that check. He still remembers and reminds me. If the public can remember for only two months that Republicans supported this budget, maybe it can remind them when they take the national checkbook hostage.
David Post lives in Salisbury.