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Something Is Afoot in the Fiscal Follies

J: Congress surprised most analysts by passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) yesterday to avert a partial government shutdown that would have happened today at midnight. The vote was 235-193 in the House and a whopping (and equally surprising) 81-14 in the Senate.

However, you should probably wait a while before you celebrate this latest avoidance of the dreaded “fiscal cliff.” All that this CR accomplished was to keep the government running until December 22. The affirmative votes in the House included 221 Republicans and 14 Democrats. A total of 175 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against it. In the Senate six Republicans voted against the bill and four more did not vote. Seven Democrats and one independent (Bernie Sanders) voted against it and one Democrat (Al Franken) did not vote. Now we will see a real fight for the next two weeks over the budget.

Both sides are working toward an agreement to set the budget not only for the rest of FY 2018, which ends on September 30, but also for FY 2019. President Trump and most Republicans want this to include a big increase in defense spending (avoiding yet again the “permanent” budget cap cut in the Budget Control Act of 2011) and President Trump wants full funding for his ridiculous border wall.

Democrats are unalterably opposed to the wall (L: sometimes politicians have common sense), but will accept increased defense spending if they get a similar increase in nondefense spending. They also want some kind of permanent status for the young people (Dreamers) who were illegally brought to the US as children by their parents. They also want an extension of funding for the Childhood Insurance Program (CHIP), the only item that needed to be dealt with by September 30, 2017 that has not yet been addressed (the states actually pass these payments along and they have been able to keep the program going with their own funding since federal funding ended in September).

If you can see a simple solution to these wildly varying goals, you are a far better political analyst than I am. It does seem to be a safe bet that Congress will not let a partial government shutdown happen two days before Christmas. That’s why I think there is some deal percolating that will be revealed in two weeks.

It’s quite possible they will do what they usually do—agree to spend money on ALL their priorities. That’s how we got a $20 trillion national debt. (L: Where the heck are all those Congress people with that silly “don’t raise taxes” pledge that haunted the Obama Administration? Oh yeah, they “reduced” taxes and now will be increasing spending. Nice! Good grief. When did I become a deficit hawk?)

J: They will also probably pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 before they enact a new CR. That will also increase the deficit and thus the national debt over the next decade. (L: See? These are crazy people in Congress.)

J: There is rarely a dull moment in Washington, DC these days. Stay tuned to see what Congress does in the next two weeks.

L: It won’t be pretty.

J: It sure will be interesting, though, and some of it may even be riveting.

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