Search This Blog

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Sticking points in the government shutdown battle
By Rachel Rose Hartman

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that a government shutdown looks likely. And his GOP counterpart, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said that Congress appears to have backtracked this morning on budget negotiations.

So what's holding everything up?

Below is a breakdown of the main points on which Democrats and Republicans disagree when it comes to this round of government funding:

The gap in the total amount of proposed spending cuts

Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to cut federal spending in order to demonstrate fiscal restraint to the American people. But they have yet to agree on just how much they want to cut. House Republicans first approved cutting $61 billion from last year's spending, but Democrats have proposed a less steep $33 billion cut. And even that figure is a subject of dispute between the parties: Reid claims the GOP agreed to the $33 billion in cuts, but Boehner claims that his caucus never approved the smaller number. Republicans now suggest cuts approaching the $40 billion range.

Disputes over which programs to cut

Funding the government requires both mandatory and discretionary spending and lawmakers have not agreed on which type of spending should absorb the cuts. Republicans are pushing for big cuts to discretionary spending--i.e., everything that the government doesn't mandate as spending under law--including health and education spending. At the same time, congressional Republicans are looking to boost defense spending. The GOP package of cuts would lower the baseline for future discretionary spending. Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for cuts to mandatory spending that would not affect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

The battle over policy measures or "riders"

House Republicans have attached a number of "riders" to their proposal to fund the government. Neither party has been willing to say just how many of the 40 or 50 total measures (by Boehner's estimate) are holding up negotiations. But Democrats have identified several provisions they strongly oppose--including one to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and another to cut funding initiatives in the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. Democrats say these riders have no place in a budget bill; Republicans counter that such items shouldn't be dealbreakers.

Framing a permanent solution versus a temporary one

The two sides have yet to agree on whether they will continue to hash out a longterm bill to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, or pass yet another short-term extension. Boehner has been pushing a measure that would fund the government for one week, cut $12 billion in federal spending, and fund the military through the remainder of the fiscal year in September. Democrats say the one-week measure is dead-on-arrival and doesn't actually cut $12 billion, due to boosts in defense spending.

Trying to make the politics work

Both parties are trying to appease a majority of their Hill members in order to corral the necessary votes for passage. Neither side wants to put members of their party in the position of casting a politically unpopular vote. Democrats are placing blame on the tea party for the GOP's unwillingness to budge. Republicans say Democrats want a government shutdown in the hope that Republicans will suffer the political fallout from slowdowns and funding cuts to government services. Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats are split along partisan lines in this debate, as in so many others.

(Photo of Reid, left, and Boehner, right: Charles Dharapak/AP)

No comments:

Popular Posts