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Still Worlds Apart

February 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

If progress is being made on keeping the government up and running beyond the March 4 deadline, it’s not being shared with the public. Both Democrats and Republicans have spent the week digging in their heels and pledging to move forward on their separate, conflicting paths, virtually guaranteeing that we will see a government shutdown while things are being worked out.

House Republicans announced yesterday that their first order of business when the come back next week will be to pass a two-week continuing resolution that would cut about $4 billion from current spending levels, which would be, essentially, a pro-rated version of the spending cuts in their rest-of-the-fiscal-year continuing resolution, perhaps even a little more aggressive. The Democrats in the Senate. “This isn’t a compromise, it’s a hardening of their original position,” Reid’s spokesman, Jon Summers, said. He’s right, of course.

But spending levels aren’t even the real debate. The bigger problem, as Jonathan Bernstein notes, is that the Republicans are using the continuing resolution as a means for pursuing their entire domestic policy platform, like defunding Planned Parenthood, blocking net neutrality rules, and preventing the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. That stuff is all in the continuing resolution the House passed last week, and it makes it nearly impossible for the two parties to strike a deal on the more practical matters, like keeping federal employees funded and benefits flowing to veterans,

If the only question was about funding levels, which was always expected to be a battleground, then it’s doubtful a compromise would’ve been impossible. The budget debate might have gone to the brink, maybe even shutting the government down for a few days before a deal was reached. In theory, however, it’s just not that difficult to cut a deal between one side that wants X dollars and another side that wants Y dollars spent on, more or less, the same set of programs … But, when it comes to the policy fights over health care reform, environmental regulations, Planned Parenthood, and other issues, there aren’t partial victories available. Democrats won’t give in, and House Republicans won’t either, at least not easily. To take just one example: If you’re a Republican congressman, once you’ve said that allowing funds to go to Planned Parenthood is basically just funding abortion (even if it’s not), how do you reconcile a “yes” vote on a compromise bill that allows funding for that organization?

I don’t know how this gets solved in the five days between when Congress comes back and all discretionary government funding expires. Maybe if Congress’ own salaries were dependent on them passing a spending bill they would find a way. But they’re not, and Congress’ immunity to the consequences of a government shutdown is probably contributing to the collective mindset that continues to steer this whole thing towards gridlock.

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