U.S. Budget Experts Say Administration, Hill Leaders Boxing Themselves In

Published Aug 28, 2013. By John Shaw.

WASHINGTON (MNI) - Budget experts say one of the most concerning features of this fall's coming fiscal battle is that neither President Barack Obama nor congressional leaders are preparing rank-and-file lawmakers for the compromises that will be necessary to pass the fiscal year 2014 budget, restructure the sequester, and increase the statutory debt ceiling.

Rather, analysts say, Obama and congressional leaders continue to press their positions in firm and unwavering language, making compromises increasingly difficult to strike and pass in Congress.

This week both the White House and House Speaker John Boehner signaled that they are not actively in search of bipartisan agreements that both parties can at least accept.

According to the Idaho Statesman, Boehner, in remarks Monday in Idaho at a fundraiser for Rep. Mike Simpson, said he has "made it clear that we're not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit."

This was a restatement of his position during the 2011 debt ceiling battle, a position he has told reporters this summer will remain operative in the coming fiscal talks.

"The president doesn't think this is fair, thinks I'm being difficult to deal with," Boehner said, according to the newspaper account of his remarks. "But I'll say this: It may be unfair, but what I'm trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We're going to have a whale of a fight," he said.

It is unclear if Boehner's hard line comments during a Republican fundraiser indicate his real strategy this fall. But they are words that will be difficult for him to retreat from.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also offered an absolutist position during a Monday briefing in which he discussed the fiscal talks this fall.

"Let me reiterate what our position is. And it is unequivocal. We will not negotiate with Republicans in Congress over Congress's responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has racked up. Period," Carney said.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a stern letter to congressional leaders Monday that called on Congress to pass legislation increasing the debt ceiling by the middle of October.

"Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of Congress because only Congress can extend the nation's borrowing authority. Failure to meet that responsibility would cause irreparable harm to the American economy," he wrote.

"Under any circumstance - in light of its schedule, the inherent variability of cash flows, and the dire consequences of miscalculation - Congress must act before the middle of October," Lew concluded.

Last week, Obama took a bus trip in New York to discuss economic issues. During a town hall meeting in Binghampton, Obama said policymakers should be intensely focused on spurring economic growth and creating jobs but instead "we have been spending a lot of time arguing about whether we should be paying our bill that we've already accrued."

He ridiculed the threat of some Republicans to allow the government to shut down unless the 2010 Affordable Care Act is defunded. "There's been threats that we would shut down the government unless we agreed to roll back the health care reform that's about to provide millions of Americans with health care coverage for the first time," he said.

Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, said that he wishes policymakers were spending more time quietly exploring a fiscal compromise rather than restating their maximalist positions.

"I think it would have been wiser for the President to be talking privately to the Speaker and other congressional leaders rather than firing up his base during a bus trip," Bixby said.

"We need more leaders, like Lyndon Johnson, who are skilled at finding agreements rather than just fighting all the time," he said.

Bill Hoagland, vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former senior Senate Republican budget aide, said he fears this summer has been largely wasted by leaders in both parties who have firmly clung to long-held and loudly articulated fiscal positions.

"It would have made sense for at least staff level discussions throughout August to see what kind of agreement is possible. My sense is this just hasn't happened this year. Everyone has been busy restating their old positions," he said.

The 2014 fiscal year begins on October 1 and so far none of the 12 annual spending bills has been passed. Congress is only set to be in session for less than a dozen days before October 1.

It seems likely a short-term FY'14 spending bill will be passed in September to keep the government funded while the two parties try to find an agreement - or force the other side to capitulate.