I have an old grad school friend who works for NOAA, and who has invited me to work on a research project with him. The problem is, the money is currently held up because Congress can’t pass a budget (although we’re already more than halfway through the fiscal year) and is only passing short-term continuing resolutions. Without a certain budget we can’t move forward on the project because we don’t actually know if the money will be there.
Small potatoes, of course, but it’s a good proxy for other, bigger, projects that are currently held up. Say you’re a big firm expecting a government contract, but unsure about whether Congress is ever going to agree on a FY2011 budget; do you hedge your bets by limiting the financial commitments you’ll need to make if the budget is ever passed? It seems likely. You don’t yet buy certain equipment, you don’t yet hire more workers, etc. Regime uncertainty, anyone?
Whether Congress will ever approve a FY2011 budget before the end of the fiscal year is anyone’s guess. As far as I can figure out, we’ve never completed a fiscal year without having passed a budget before, and never even gone this deep into the fiscal year without a budget (although the government hasn’t shut down yet, in contrast to FY1996 when it shut down twice). Supposedly the parties in Congress are closer to resolution. They are now in agreement on $33 billion in cuts,* although they’re still in disagreement over what to cut.
But House Republicans are planning to use the classic trick of loading the budget resolution with all kinds of riders to push through issues that can’t stand on their own, such as stopping the FCC’s Internet Neutrality rule and blocking the EPA’s climate rules (Source.) This is a long-standing practice because unlike stand-alone bills, budget resolutions are not subject to the filibuster and presidents are less likely to veto a whole budget bill over an item they don’t like than they are to veto that item if it comes by itself. But will the Democratic majority in the Senate go for the budget resolution if it’s larded up with Tea Party goals?
If the Tea Party freshman in the House had any sense of congressional history–which of course few freshman congressmen ever have–they’d realize what a precarious position this puts them in. During a normal budget year, the public doesn’t pay much attention to those riders, but when you’re facing a government shutdown they become salient, and it’s very easy for a president to use them to direct the public’s blame toward his opponents (“They’re going to shut down the government over net neutrality? How childish is that?”). As Gingrich learned to his dismay, the President is still the focal point for the media and public attention, and no member of Congress can go toe-to-toe with him in the media and win.
Meanwhile, work on the FY2012 budget is delayed, even though that one is likely to be just as contentious and just as unlikely to be completed in a timely manner even if they could focus their efforts on it right now.
*Technically this represents a defeat for the Tea Party caucus, but the quibbling over $33 billion in cuts vs. $100 billion, when the deficit is over $1 trillion is like arguing over whether to use one bandaid or two when you’ve cut an artery.