House Republicans and Senate Democrats have arrived at detente on spending, which should prevent a government shutdown through the Ides of March.
But it’s a brief and fragile detente, and for now only masks a greater divide between the parties — one that’s less about spending levels and more about the right of the Obama administration to undertake routine functions in an era of divided government.
After a weeks-long stare-down over spending, both sides blinked last week, when they came to terms on a two week measure to keep the federal lights on after funding runs out March 4.
But Democrats blinked fastest.They wanted to keep the government funded for a month at current levels, while House and Senate leaders worked out a long-term fix.
Republicans said no. They offered two weeks, at reduced spending levels, with their scalpels scraping at seams in the culture war. In the end, Democrats swallowed the timeframe, and the spending levels, but redirected those levels to friendlier priorities. Even still, the White House is asking publicly for a wider window, to avoid a shutdown.
But whether it’s two weeks, or three, or four, the question has never been if they can come to terms on a stopgap. It’s whether they can paper over vast policy differences in one must-pass piece of legislation. We’ll try to answer that question for you later. But here’s how it’s shaping up.
By agreeing to several billion dollars in spending cuts over the two weeks starting March 4, Democrats signaled that they’ve lost the argument on spending limits. Republicans want the longer-term funding measure to include over $60 billion in cuts, and they’re likely to get them.
But in addition to wanting reduced levels, they want those cuts to target government programs they dislike, and they want the government funding bill to include a bunch of extraneous policy measures meant to tie the Obama administration’s hands on issues as diverse as education, the environment and health care, as it attempts to govern from the executive branch.
The Obama administration and Senate Democrats have rejected those riders, but all three sides will have to come to terms on something by mid-month. We’re facing a much bigger fight, and it will need to be resolved quickly.