Back to Congressional gridlock. Back to watching John Boehner provide exciting updates like “we’re continuing to work with our members.” Maybe, if the stalemate goes on long enough, he will once again tell reporters: “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.” I always enjoy that part.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been awash in worries about profound problems in foreign affairs, but now we’re going domestic again. We’re back in budget crisis territory. Compared with Syria, it seems like a walk in the park. Good old fiscal cliffs.
It’s possible you’ve lost track of this over the summer, so I have prepared a calendar of upcoming events. Feel free to put it on the refrigerator:
Sept. 23: House of Representatives goes away. For a weeklong vacation. Because, you know, they need to see the folks back home that they didn’t see when they were there all of August. It’s possible that leaders of the Republican Party will cancel their long-scheduled break rather than let it be said that the House only spent nine working days in Washington in the month before the federal government shut down. Which we would definitely be saying.
Oct. 1: Government shuts down! Do not plan a vacation in a national park for early October.
A critical chunk of House Republicans insist that they will only vote for a bill to keep government going if said legislation also defunds Obamacare. You may have noticed that House Republicans have a stupendously high opinion of health care reform. Most Democrats think it will be a very good thing over the long run, but probably a pain to implement, with lots of complaining from all sides. Republicans, on the other hand, think that the instant it goes into effect, voters will be so ecstatic they will toss out any public official who threatens to take it away from them. Yet, simultaneously, the world as we know it will come to an end. Go figure.
Since neither the Senate nor the president will buy the defunding idea, Speaker Boehner came up with an interesting compromise, under which the House would pass a bill that keeps the government running and defunds Obamacare. But it would be structured so that the second part would vanish when the bill got to the Senate.
There are a lot of procedural details. But, really, all you need to remember is: “Boehner bill: Obamacare defunding part disappears by magic.” The Tea Party faction in the House does not appear to be fooled by this maneuver.
Date to be announced: Government starts up! If there is a shutdown, it won’t last long. Probably no longer than the moment when voters begin to wonder about the clerks who process Social Security checks.
This is a good moment to mention the sequester. I could have brought it up earlier, but you had a lot on your plate with the disappearing Obamacare thing.
Of course you remember the big, bipartisan budget deal in 2011, with all the automatic, irrational cuts to federal agencies that would go away as soon as Congress came up with a sensible bipartisan budget plan. Just look at that sentence again, and ask yourself how we ever imagined that one would work.
We’ve already had one sequester, which has hacked into education funds, money for research and long-term upkeep of the parks. This week, Michael Schmidt of The Times reported that the F.B.I. has a cost-cutting plan to shut down its offices 10 days a year. In case of a terrorist attack, furloughed agents will be called in from home.
The second phase will start to be felt over the next few months. It’s particularly hard on defense contracts, so many members of Congress would like to see it adjusted. Some of us, of course, would prefer to get the F.B.I. back. Anyway, the issue is going to come up, and I don’t want to see you throwing yourself under the bed the first time you hear the word “sequester.” We’re better than that.
Oct. 18: First possible day for Treasury default if Congress can’t come up with a bill to raise the debt ceiling. If there is no deal, financial markets around the world fall into chaos. President Obama goes to bed and has a wonderful dream in which he is working everything out with House Republicans, who are led by Kevin Spacey from “House of Cards.”
The Republicans have myriad proposals for dealing with the debt ceiling, many involving doing something bad to Obamacare. The president’s position is that Congress has an obligation to pay our already-existing national debt, and that, therefore, he is not going to negotiate the matter at all. Maybe Vladimir Putin has an idea.
Jan. 1: New sequester cuts really kick in and first Obamacare insurance policies go into effect. The moon turns to blood. Thor, son of Odin, fights in combat with the serpent Jörmungandr. The president contemplates the fact that he has three more years in office.