Political Animal


April 19, 2012 9:32 AM Something Will Have To Give On Appropriations

By Ed Kilgore

Late yesterday President Obama’s threatened congressional Republicans with a pre-election government shutdown if they don’t get back into line with the deficit agreement established last year. There was nothing vague about the threat, either, as reported by TPM’s Brian Beutler:

“Until the House of Representatives indicates that it will abide by last summer’s agreement, the President will not be able to sign any appropriations bills,” writes Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, in a letter addressed to congressional appropriators Wednesday.
The message is simple: The government will shut down just ahead of the 2012 presidential election if Republicans break faith with the debt limit deal.
The debt limit deal requires Congress by law to limit discretionary spending in next year’s appropriations to $1.047 trillion. During the debt limit fight, leaders of both parties and the White House understood that the government would be funded at this level for the next fiscal year — and moreover they had reached accord on how that money would be divided between defense and non-defense programs. Those agreements removed two trip wires, and appeared to greatly reduce the likelihood of a government shutdown in 2012.

The GOP backtracking on the deficit deal is universally attributed to the conditions House conservatives placed on support for the Paul Ryan budget. In essence, they wouldn’t vote for it unless the leadership agreed to begin implementing its cuts through the appropriations process this year. Since this course of action also satisfied Republican Members frantic to head off the planned “sequestration” of defense spending at the end of the year, it wound up making sense to Boehner and company. And their rationalization for tearing up the agreement made so very publicly with the Senate and the White House is that the domestic spending levels in the agreement is a “ceiling, not a floor.” In other words: We never meant it.

Now the White House is heading off one tactic they might have employed, assuming they can get some support in the Senate: sending the president a few bills he can sign, and holding off the controversial stuff—a defense appropriations bill with higher spending than the levels agreed to, or say, an ag appropriations bill with deep food stamp cuts—until the last minute, making Obama the bad guy for disrupting the government. It’s all or nothing: get back in line with the agreement you signed last year, or let the federal government drift towards a shutdown on September 30, five weeks before the election.

Says OMB’s Zients:

“The [Ryan] resolution’s framework allows only two options,” he writes, “every appropriations bill will provide inadequate funding, or some bills will provide adequate funding so that other bills will face even deeper, more problematic cuts.”
“Both approaches break last summer’s agreement, and neither is acceptable.”

Something will have to give, and this time, the White House is setting up barracades before entertaining any negotiations.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on April 19, 2012 9:51 AM:

    Automatic Cuts/Sequester that falls due in January of 2013, along with the expiration of the George W. Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich. The timing of both is interesting, especially if WIllard Romney is inaugurated on Jan. 22, 2013. The GOP is desperate to derail both of these before then. Their problem: if Obama is re-elected, they'd love to saddle him with the deep cuts that will occur, but don't want to saddle their own guy with the deep cuts that they, the TeaParty GOP, demanded, not to mention raising taxes on the Wealthy.

  • Josef K on April 19, 2012 9:53 AM:

    This is going to get messy.

  • internet tough guy on April 19, 2012 10:12 AM:

    Isn't there the possibility of another debt ceiling vote soon too?

    Man, I thought last year was the fiscal equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I don't know what to use for this one. Berlin '61 maybe?

  • liam foote on April 19, 2012 10:14 AM:

    Good for him. It's one thing for the GOP to regularly filibuster, obstruct and oppose legislation that they proposed in the first place, but reneging on a clear and understandable agreement is simply dishonest. When Mr. Obama stands his ground on issues such as this, his ratings tend to rise substantially. So bring it on ...

  • ElegantFowl on April 19, 2012 10:14 AM:

    Good call by the White House. Let's give the electorate a clear preview of life under the Republican/Ryan budget.

    Now to make the choice crystal clear the WH needs to threaten that a govt shutdown actually and completely shuts down all agencies that would be zero-funded under the Ryan budget: FAA, Customs, SEC, DHS, EPA, State, Education, Interior, all of them. No exceptions for employees or services deemed valuable to the 1%.

    Yeah, it will be messy, but better to drive the election by messy hard policy choices than by soft-media personality contest.

  • T2 on April 19, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Its important for the Administration to emphasize that a Government Shutdown does not benefit the nation as a whold, but the Republicans only care about what benefits Republicans/Wealthy. It's a pretty stark contrast....

  • boatboy_srq on April 19, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Perhaps my memory is going, but wasn't the "sequestration" and automatic across-the-board reduction agreed as the "poison pill" that nobody wanted - as an incentive to reach an agreement? From the "negotiations" over the budget prior to this taking effect, it seemed pretty clear that the deficit hawks didn't care overmuch how the deficit was reduced so long as spending went down. Now it seems that everyone still wants their pet expenditures retained (especially the defense hawks, who either weren't swayed by the deficit hawks or (if they were both) let their multiple-personality disorder go unmedicated).

    This should put another pair of nails in the coffins of the ideas that a) the GOP has negotiated in good faith on the budget, and b) the Ryan budget concept (I refuse to call it an actual budget) is in any way responsible either in terms of expenditures allocated or of deficit/debt reduction.

  • Hedda Peraz on April 19, 2012 10:52 AM:

    Just another example that Obama never ran a business!
    When President Romney takes over, he will simply FIRE any congressman or senator who does not do what he tells them!

  • RalfW on April 19, 2012 11:10 AM:


    Once a party makes it clear that they negotiate in bad faith and have a proven track record of reneging on deals, there really is no reason for Obama or the Democrats to wander in all compromise-y and ready to talk.

    The GOP made it very clear with the Ryan budget concept (h/t: boatboy) that they are charting their own course towards the rocky shoals of granny-starving and unelectability. I applaud the WH saying: here's your GPS, I charged the batteries for you.

  • zandru on April 19, 2012 1:10 PM:

    Timing is Everything...

    ... and Sep 30, end of the federal FY and 5 weeks prior to the election, is a great date. Some enlightened states (New Mexico, part of the United States for 100 years!) start early voting 4 weeks prior to the election. 9/30 gives people at least a full week to see The Republican Party In Action (Inaction?) prior to casting their ballots.

  • Lucia on April 19, 2012 3:34 PM:

    And about bleeping well time. Where was this Obama when we needed him last year or two years ago?