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April 17, 2017

The Bucks Don’t Stop With the Debt Ceiling

When Congress returns on April 25, they’ll have just four days to prevent a government shutdown over debt.

Congress is on vacation. Again. And while getting politicians out of Washington has its benefits, this year’s break is ill-timed. When members of Congress reconvene on April 25, they’ll have just four days to keep the government from shutting down as last year’s continuing resolution expires.

The importance of tackling budget issues has even more symbolic power this time around: Were the government to shut down, it would come on President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office. And we know the Leftmedia will jump at the chance to use that against the president and Republicans in Congress.

Now, once Congress comes back to town, don’t expect either party to panic over an impending government shutdown. In particular, Democrats have the most to gain from a shutdown — they’ll get credit with their base for the Great Resistance Against Trump, all while their accomplices in the press make sure Republicans get the blame.

But what about Republicans? After all, they control the White House, Senate and House. Surely we can rely on the GOP leadership to address this critical issue, right? Not so fast. Remember, this is the same Republican Congress that failed to agree on a bill to replace ObamaCare after seven years of promises, which now jeopardizes tax reform or anything else of substance.

Thanks to the ineptitude of last year’s Congress to reach an actual budget agreement, we’re on the precipice of yet another government shutdown. In order to keep the government operating beyond April 29, Congress must vote on a budget or pass another continuing resolution in order to raise the debt ceiling. In laymen’s terms, our elected officials are about to kick the can down the road once again. It’s what they do best, and, frankly, it’s what most voters want them to do. Everybody wants cuts until their favorite program is on the chopping block. And every program is somebody’s favorite.

Republicans are simply too divided to agree on the budget. Some members are refusing to back any measure that defunds Planned Parenthood. Others won’t compromise on defense and security spending. And President Trump wants billions for the border security and the wall. Democrats, with everything to gain from a shutdown, oppose just about anything the Republicans might want in a budget bill or a continuing resolution. Suddenly, Democrats have become the party of “no.”

Even if Republicans can muster the courage to come up with a bill, they’ll need 60 votes in the Senate. That’s right. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is licking his chops. Last month, Schumer said, “If Republicans insist on inserting poison pill riders such as defunding Planned Parenthood, building a border wall, or starting a deportation force, they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy.” As far as the Democrats are concerned, it’s their way or the highway.

House Speaker Paul Ryan sees the writing on the wall, and he’s already signaling that health care, the border wall and tax reform will have to wait. Imagine that. Republicans, who now hold all the reins of power, still have to yield to Democrats in Congress to get something done.

There’s a simple reason for this. When it comes time to get things done (or to stop them), Democrats march in lockstep. Republicans, by contrast, are a herd of cats scattering in a hundred directions.

What should worry Americans more than a temporary government shutdown is the long-term impact of our country’s ever-growing debt. The overall share of the national budget needed just to service the debt will grow significantly in the coming years, leaving less funding for the military, infrastructure and other projects.

As the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner writes for National Review, “All of this budget maneuvering comes shortly after the Congressional Budget Office released an alarming new report warning that the national debt will double as a share of the national economy by mid-century. Interest payments on the debt will rise from $270 billion in 2017 to $768 billion in 2027, with catastrophic consequences for President Trump’s agenda of economic and job growth.”

The irony is that government shutdowns, which are usually short-lived and really have very little impact on the country, are characterized as the fall of the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, the long-term federal debt, which has the potential to seriously impact the economy, infrastructure, national defense and other major initiatives, isn’t even a priority.

The situation is akin to losing sleep over how to make the minimum credit card payment without even thinking about the bank that’s about to foreclose on your home.

Chances are, Republicans will go for minimum damage to their brand and work with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution before April 29. Gabrielle Levy writes in U.S. News and World Report that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have been negotiating for months on a deal to fund the government and have told reporters the talks have made significant progress ahead of the deadline.” While that may seem to be a positive development, a short-term deal this month will only set the stage for a real budget battle later this year.

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