Yesterday, as the Republican House failed all over the place, I cast a jaundiced eye into the future and realized that—hey!—there’d be a deal pretty soon to start budget negotiations. Given that every attempt to craft an actual long-term spending plan has failed since the return of divided government,* even when special “supercommittee” conditions were attached, why would anyone be optimistic about hashing out a deal over two months? I asked a bunch of senators and congressmen. The short version of the answer: Everyone is exhausted, the deficit’s shrinking (and making the math a bit easier), and … actually there aren’t a ton of reasons.
“Why we’re here, primarily, is that the appropriations process broke down and we’re working on different numbers,” said Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, one of the party’s Senate spending hawks and anti-Keynesians. “If we were working on the same number, we wouldn’t be here today. I said that to the president when he had [senators] up to the White House last week. He didn’t agree on the number, but he agreed on that.”
Shelby sounded less confident that the pain of sequestration and shutdown would force real bargains. “It’s punting, to use a metaphor from football,” he said, swinging his leg to fully illustrate his point. “No one, Democrats or Republicans, wants to face up to the tough reality. If we could ever do this, and keep sequestration, we’d be on the right road. The road of pain, but the right road economically and financially.”
The “road of pain”? Oh, yeah. Before long we’re going to find ourselves back in the world where Democrats are squabbling with each other about whether they can ever cut entitlements. The safe money may be on a few more crises.
*And before that, of course, because scaredy-cat Democrats failed to pass a budget in 2010, then lost the election anyway.