On the budget, no news is not good news
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Don’t look now, but another spending crisis is coming, and unlike previous showdowns, it’s not quite clear where the battle lines are drawn. What has been clear for a while is that when it comes to fiscal issues, President Trump has a unique position, to say the least. The next few weeks will show whether this uniqueness will lead to better policy outcomes than in the last round of regularly scheduled fiscal cliffs.

With the debt limit now expected to hit this fall thanks to the Treasury’s “extraordinary measures” and some natural fluctuations, this week’s fight centers upon government funding — specifically, the fact that it’s running out on Friday, requiring Congress to pass something or risk a shutdown.

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There has been rather optimistic talk about cobbling together a full omnibus, but the question of what goes into that package is far from settled. Republicans want funding for a wall and border security, but as of Monday, President Trump suggested that those items could wait until the fall.

 

Meanwhile, Democrats are insisting upon Obamacare payments and hesitant, to say the least, about the rest of the agenda, as President Trump urges Congress to take up another version of an Obamacare repeal as soon as possible.

These are not easy bridges to cross, and that’s not to mention the question of tax reform, where President Trump is reportedly urging Congress to hurry up with a plan that cuts corporate rates to 15 percent and to prioritize these cuts over trying not to raise the deficit.

In a sense, perhaps, some of this rush could signal good news for fiscal hawks. For one, some prominent suggestions to minimize the deficit impact of potential tax cuts are economically dubious and focused on revenue at the expense of spending cuts.

For another, it was questionable at best to hear some congressional leaders suggesting that one of their base’s biggest priorities, Obamacare repeal, has had its chance and can no longer happen. It’s encouraging to see movement on these issues again.

But a note of caution here is necessary. There is reason to believe that Republicans in Congress and the president are on different pages when it comes to key parts of the agenda, including border wall funding, the timing of the next repeal attempt and the level of tax cuts that can be achieved.

Of course, congressional Democrats stand opposed to almost everything the Republican majority wants. Remember that the last government shutdown was primarily driven by a disagreement over just one budget item — Obamacare funding. While Republican leadership insists that a shutdown is not on the table, the specter looms.

What happens next? With President Trump expected to release details of his tax plan on Wednesday and the government funding deadline bearing down on Friday, the chances of a full-funding package are narrow at best, but many other details — from what’s contained in the stopgap that passes to how long it’s in effect — remain to be seen.

These self-imposed crises serve as an apt reminder of the true problems with the U.S. budgeting framework. It has been 22 years since Congress has completed the budget and appropriations process on time, with the reality more often resembling what we currently see: government funding running out and lawmakers racing the clock to rush through some agenda items before it is too late.

After the dust settles, the process will restart, with little hope that things will function as they should. This time, perhaps, there is a hope of better outcomes.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price has long been a champion of budget process reform, and, under united government, larger-scale overhaul seems at least possible. Through the haze of unclear goals and partisan disagreement, that path forward stands out as an option that both parties should seek if they want better outcomes in the future.

 

Jonathan Bydlak is the founder and president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, a non-profit, non-partisan advocate for reduced federal spending and balanced budgets.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.