Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Belated Post on the Budget

I know it is a little late to be posting on Congress's budget deal, but what the heck.  Once again, I can understand if Republicans see this as another episode of Lame Ducks Behaving Badly.  Congress has passed a budget that will keep the government except the Department of Homeland Security from shutting down until next December or so.  What no one has addressed is whether the debt ceiling is part of the deal. At least part of the Republicans' problem during the last debt ceiling showdown was that it occurred at the same time as a government shutdown, so naturally most people were unable to distinguish between the two.  Republicans are on better ground if they have a showdown over the debt ceiling only.  So tell me, all of you out there, was the debt ceiling part of the deal?

Also, although the rest of the government will stay open until the end of next year, the Department of Homeland Security will run out of funds next spring.  Republicans hope to use a Homeland Security shutdown as leverage for concessions on immigration.  Unlike a total government shutdown, this might work reasonably well for them.

There are three reasons government shutdowns and debt ceiling showdowns have gone badly for Republicans.  First, government shutdowns cause inconvenience.  People don't like being inconvenienced.  The claim that shutdowns are only inconvenient because Obama is making them so and that really there should be no inconvenience at all are just not convincing.  Second, both government shutdowns and debt ceiling showdowns look like hostage taking, and hostage taking is unpopular.  And finally, and I think most importantly, most of what the Republicans have tried to achieve by shutdowns and showdowns has been substantively unpopular.  This should not come as a surprise.  People don't usually have to threaten anything as drastic as to shut down the government or blow up the economy to pass popular programs, after all.  And, of course, these three reasons are closely related.

But they won't apply, or will apply much less, in a showdown over immigration and Homeland Security.  Shutting down the Department of Homeland Security will no doubt inconvenience some people.  But many fewer than a general shutdown.  I confess to not knowing all that a shutdown of Homeland Security will entail, but presumably essential personnel whose work really does implicate public safety will continue to stay on the job without pay.  Shutting down so small a part of government is a much less drastic measure than a complete shutdown or default and will presumably look a lot less like taking hostage.  But above all else, what Republicans are pushing for is much less substantively unpopular than what they have demanded in the past.

This does not necessarily mean that such a showdown will go well for Republicans.  It may, for instance, bring out a nasty nativism that will repel most people.  But I do not believe it will end in anything like the humiliating defeat that result from the last two debt ceiling showdowns.

PS:  Well, here is the answer.  The debt ceiling expires March 15, 2015.  The Treasury Department can probably keep us going for a few months with "extraordinary" measures afterward, but then there will be a new debt ceiling showdown, presumably not accompanies by a government shutdown.  My guess, as before, is that how the Republicans do will depend on how substantively unpopular they measures they are trying to get by are.  If what they intend is repealing Obamacare, they will be trying to strip millions of their health insurance and that will be unpopular.  If it is to repeal the individual mandate . . . .

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