The federal government ran a budget deficit last month of $223 billion, according to recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). With deficits consistently running to levels almost beyond human comprehension, it would be easy to miss the fact that this was the largest single-month deficit on record.
So, what are Congress and President Obama doing about it? The House of Representatives took the first step to get deficit spending under control by passing a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year for $61 billion less than 2010. A good first step, but lest anyone miss the big picture, this cut was equal to about one week’s worth of deficit spending in the month of February. Truly an example of the old saw that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
As the Senate was too busy taking another recess to pass its own bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, the House then passed a bill to fund the government for two weeks—and cut spending by $4 billion in the process. At the last minute, the Senate woke up and passed the bill, too.
The Senate is now about to try to pass a bill to fund the government for the rest of the year. One option is to enact the remaining $57 billion from the House bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposes to cut spending a total of $4.7 billion, according to the CBO. That’s about equal to one-half of one day’s deficit spending in February.
With all the focus on legislative tactics, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the battle is between the modest spending cuts passed by the House and Senator Reid’s shamefully puny cuts. The issue is not whether the course of government will change dramatically. It won’t. President Obama and congressional Democrats already drove spending rapidly higher. Even under the House bill, spending would continue to grow substantially. This battle is only the first of many.
All eyes are now on the Senate. If it is unable to pass a bill as the basis for negotiations with the House, the immediate outcome may be a shutdown of the less critical functions of government.
If a shutdown does occur, the fault lies not with the House. It passed a bill. The House is ready to negotiate a final bill with the Senate to send to the President. It is even willing to pass another two-week Continuing Resolution (with another $4-billion spending cut) to gain the time necessary for a successful negotiation with the Senate.
But no final bill is possible until the Senate acts. If the Senate comes up short again and refuses even the House’s good faith offer of another two-week Continuing Resolution, then a shutdown is almost certain. Both sides will point the finger of blame, but the fact remains the House acted; the Senate failed. The House passed cuts equal to the deficit for a week in February. Senator Reid proposes a mere half-day’s worth. The blame for a shutdown would lie plainly at the feet of Senator Reid, who as Majority Leader failed to move a bill, and at the feet of President Obama, who following the precedent of his recent budget submission once again simply failed to lead.