Democratic leadership has been bending over backward to find a budget compromise that Republicans in the House of Representatives will accept—to the point of accepting spending cuts that would be deeply harmful to the country. It is, however, proving to be a Sisyphean task to find agreement with Tea Party extremists who seem unwilling to budge an inch and are effectively calling the shots. Even if Republicans and Democrats do agree on an overall spending level, the whole deal could be derailed by House conservatives insisting on special provisions called “riders” that have little to nothing to do with deficit reduction. That’s a twist even Sisyphus himself would shake his head at.
To recap briefly: Last year President Barack Obama laid out his vision for overall discretionary spending levels for fiscal year 2011. When the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives this year, their leadership initially demanded a level of spending approximately $70 billion below the president’s level. That wasn’t enough for the Tea Party members, who wanted a level $100 billion below the president’s. So the GOP leadership withdrew their initial position and adopted the Tea Party’s.
The first shutdown deadline loomed, so Democratic leadership agreed to a short-term extension that set discretionary spending levels $44 billion below the president’s initial proposal. Two weeks later, they agreed to another $6 billion in cuts to again avoid a shutdown. That’s where we are today. The government is currently operating with discretionary spending levels almost exactly halfway between the president’s position and the Tea Party position.
You might think that with a divided government, a compromise right in the middle would be acceptable for both sides. But you’d be wrong. Conservatives are demanding even more and reports indicate that even though Democratic leadership has offered another $20 billion in cuts, the Tea Party appears unwilling to accept anything less than the full $100 billion.
But even if Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) can convince the Tea Party caucus to accept something slightly less than total victory on overall spending levels, the deal still may founder on a host of policy proposals that many conservatives in the House are insisting be included in the budget legislation. These so-called “riders” are an attempt to use the spending bill as a vehicle to enact major policy changes even though those changes would actually increase spending. H.R. 1, the spending bill the House of Representatives passed, includes dozens of these riders.
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