The return of the battle of the budget

Sean Buckley

Of all the things Democrats and Republicans have fought over in the past few decades, the federal budget has been one of their largest sources of controversy.  Faced with a $16+ trillion federal debt, weak recovery in the economy, and countless strains on different departments, Congress and the White House have been under pressure to create a budget that is fiscally responsible yet doesn’t severely compromise the billions that the government hands out through paychecks, social security, and welfare.

Although it is not especially new for Congress to leave issues to the last possible minute, the country’s representatives were under considerable pressure to come to a compromise by March 1.  Back in 2011, President Obama and Republicans in Congress passed a law that was intended to prevent the very deadlock that was present in February of this year.  According to this law, should no agreement be made by the March 1 deadline, a series of automatic cuts totaling more $1 trillion over the next decade would automatically be enacted.  Although such pressure ought to have convinced politicians to avoid bi-partisan struggles over the budget, it served more as a shot in the foot since it has largely been ignored, much like a homework deadline for a procrastinating student.

On one hand, Democrats had been pushing for a “50-50 deal,” in which the budget would combine both cuts in spending with hikes in taxes to lower the budget deficit.  This included a minimum 30% tax on incomes greater than $1 million, eliminating business tax deductions on moving equipment overseas and cutting $55 billion in defense spending and farm subsidies.  The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, threw his support behind this budget, calling it a, “balanced plan to avoid across-the-board budget cuts that will hurt kids, seniors, and our men and women in uniform.”

On the other hand, House Republicans had been planning on allowing the automatic cuts to go through.  In previous years, Republicans had passed what Speaker of the House John Boehner referred to as, “common sense cuts and reforms,” but these had expired during the previous Congressional session.  Some Republicans wanted to push these domestic cuts back through Congress, but Democratic opposition claimed that it unfairly favored the wealthy.

Both sides recognized that the sweeping six to eight percent cuts are devastating blows that could have certainly had negative repercussions on the economy.  National parks, low-income families, poor school systems, the armed forces, and many other programs would have felt the immediate impact of the sharp budget cuts.  The economy as a whole, which has been experiencing fragile growth in recent months, could go through a stunted growth should the government fail to budget its money.  The unfortunate irony about the 2011 compromise, however, is that each side subsequently viewed the consequences as justification for their own side, rather than the side of cooperation.  Unless Congress is able to think a little bit less along party lines, the March 1 budget crisis may be a regular recurring theme every time our federal government has to take a closer look at its wallet.