Monday, April 11, 2011

After the Brouhaha over Government shut-down, now can the real federal budget debate begin?

Keywords or Terms: Cataleptic Exhaustion; Budget Negotiations and Agreements; Stop-gap financing; Federal Employees; Defaulting; Senate Majority Leader Reid; House Speaker Boehner; Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio); Partnerships; and, Relationships

We were so fortunate to have such an amazing group of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, alike. After taking the country to the brink of a nervous breakdown over the budget of 2011, a budget that should have passed last year and should have been winding down, we were dragged into a cataleptic exhaustion over whether House lawmakers will reach an agreement with U.S. Senate and the White House, last week, over the passing of the belated budget. Welcome to the roller coaster world of lawmaking in the United States Congress!

Mr. Boehner’s Chief of staff was congratulated for the behind the scene efforts and contribution by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. While announcing in a press conference late Friday night that an agreement among the lawmakers have been reached, Senate Majority Leader was magnanimous enough to give credit to many who never get their widows mite in difficult circumstance as this. Yes, there were so many staffers, both in the House and Senate, who put in extra number of hours to ensure that the deal does not fall apart, or that lawmakers do not continue to drift apart. Many listeners last Friday appreciated the Majority Leader's gesture and understood the difficult challenges that many lawmakers and their staff, were facing as they attempted to reach an agreement on passing the budget that will expire in September, 2011. The rig-marrow over the budget began in April 2010!

One group that were pleased to see that our lawmakers were doing what is in the best interest of the nation, were Federal Employees, who were about to be locked out, if an agreement was not reached among the lawmakers. Some in the public actually joked that they were thankful that this task was not sourced out to China!

Majority of Americans who had keen interest in the debate over the budget understood that the agreements reached were tentative and can still fall apart, if other lawmakers in the House and Senate do not share the same convictions over all the items that were negotiated. The presumptive nature of the agreement and the possibility that all may not be totally well with the agreements, until when passed in the full house and senate, make a lot of us, wonder: What was all the brouhaha for? Is this how negotiations and deals are made in congress? Do we need to be dragged into the stress of ironing out differences among lawmakers in congress? Why are some people and programs made scapegoat due to the pressures from the Tea Party faction in the Republican Party?


The best that came out of the negotiations and agreement was probably that, America’s credit rating would not suffer or be down graded. Our creditors needed to see our lawmakers demonstrating significant flexibility or corporation, so that some of our debts do not go into default. Those creditors who were apprehensive lately about extending credit to Uncle Sam were relieved. Some of our creditors who could hardly careless about our lawmakers passing a budget, are convinced that America’s economy is the biggest and the almighty green back is a stable international and respectable currency that will never fail; these group were hardly perturbed by all the wranglings going on. For this latter group: agreements, disagreements, negotiations, deals and no deals among US lawmakers were part of the nature of American politics, and no one should read too many meanings to them; or, take them more seriously than they should. In addition, for this group, Uncle Sam’s children will do the right thing! Is this always true? Can our creditors be sure that America will tidy up its finances, pay her bills and guarantee that the nation does not go into default because our lawmakers fail to pass a workable and reflective budget?

American politics is occasionally messy and needed solutions to the question of our over-sized deficit. Our lawmakers are drawn into the annual fights over the budget line items and occasionally, the extent of the fights or how messy it gets, depends on leadership in the two chambers of congress. Initial negotiations among lawmakers this year around exhibited signs of stress, including discontent from political pressure groups, makers and shakers in congress. While some pressure groups may get so ideologue that it seems as if, no one can penetrate their defense, there are occasions, when experienced lawmakers, who know what weight to carry and which to leave behind in negotiations, cradle the process of negotiations, agreements and debates to success, even with recalcitrance from their memberships. House Speaker Boehner was faced with a tough pressure group within his party, and for some time, it looked as if the Republican Party was in disarray; however, the speaker found a way to ensure that the Tea Party group fell in line. For whatever it’s worth, we must give credit to him for bringing all the horses back to the barn or store house, after the long stormy night on friday.


It is critical to assess what was tentatively agreed on in the negotiations over the last week's Friday that prevented a complete shut-down of government. This is necessary, knowing fully well that all we are talking about here, are still presumptive. If you have been part of a negotiation deal, you understand that until all the parties to an agreement had signed on, it is still just a gentleman agreement; things can still happen that will make the deal fall though. For this past deal among lawmakers, words and data were supposed to be drafted in form of a bill that could be voted on. Except voting takes place and all the provisions agreed upon were still part of the ultimate document, it doesn’t matter what people said was agreed upon, or the benefits of the contents of the bill, the deal will remain only a gentleman’s agreement! Lawmakers, who were in negotiations and those not necessarily close to the negotiations, must still sign on to the provisions and negotiations, for the agreements to be valid and for it to pass through the house, and the senate subscribe to them.

People knowledgeable about what was agreed upon, stated that, the Republicans probably got a better deal out of these negotiations. Depending on what data and source you are looking at, you are probably sure that there is going to be a cut in the over all budget of about 38 billion dollars, give or take. If you source your data from the benchmark of the initial budget forwarded to congress by President Obama, the budget cut is in the neighborhood of about 87 billion dollars. Republicans, especially those in the Tea Party, wanted badly to cut the budget for the remainder of the six months to the tune of $61 billion dollars. With what is now in agreement, it does not seem that the Tea Party members had their way. Could this be a sore point for the negotiations? Yes and NO. If you go by the words of Representative Jim Jordan (Republican – Ohio), the negotiations are doom because of their sixty-one billion dollars threshold of cuts that weren't met in the agreement.

Because of other compromises and the stop-gap measure financing the government through this Thursday, it is very plausible that the agreement will stand, baring any other last minute recalcitrance. There were winners and losers in the negotiated compromises and a few of them, include: 1) Policy rider over abortion and Planned Parenthood Services; 2) Policy rider over environmental regulations; 3) Policy rider allowing locally generated taxes in the District of Columbia to provide help for poor women seeking abortion for unplanned pregnancies; 4) Policy rider shifting federal funds for planned parenthood to grants awarded to state health departments to allow for discretionary spending by Republican led states; and, 5) Republican’s attempt to strip funding for the provisions of the Patient’s Protection and Affordable Care Act. Of all these, the last one, defunding of the health care reform law, was vigorously defended by the Democrats; and, it will not be part of the triumphs for the Republicans. Although the GOP were able to cut community support grant sent directly to Cities to help the poor and homeless, a program initially signed into law by Republican President Nixon, to afford city administrator’s some flexibility in managing outcome programs for the poor and homeless, they were unsuccessful in their effort to defund the National Public Radio. A very welcome news to many us avid listeners to public radio!

A successfully debate that will lead to the final vote on 2011 Federal Budget by both chambers of congress is anticipated. If Republicans remain in disarray, then all bets are off; however, if the Speaker of the House is able to keep his house in order, it is probably a foregone conclusion that we will witness the type of apprehension and anxiety that beclouded the nation last week; and, made many federal agency leaders jittery. True and solid partnerships are needed on the budget negotiations deal; and, none can better bring this to fruition except the leaders in both parties. The key to having successful partnerships and negotiations buddies on federal budgets is leadership. The Republicans in the House may waive their responsibility; however, it is very unlikely at least with the 2011 Federal Budget.

As Democrats long to have some workable relationships with lawmakers in the opposing party, it is very difficult for Democrats to roll over, when Republicans, due to the plodding from the Tea party members among them, go on a rampage against women and children programs designed as safety nets. Further, it is going to be a rather strained relationship, if the Republicans are only interested in cutting down on entitlements programs, while they want to give tax break to the rich. If the goal is to solve the budget deficit problem, there must be a way to increase source of revenue for the government. Cutting entitlement programs cannot achieve the goal of a balanced budget, the way Republicans have chosen to go about it.

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