“Kicking the can down the road” is about as tired an expression as there is to describe the fiscal strategy in Washington right now, but it’s fitting. The October impasse and 16-day partial government shutdown was resolved with a stopgap measure that only delayed the most pressing fiscal issues facing the United States, and expectations that the recently established budget committee will manage to reach a functional long-term deal are low.
With political tensions as tight as they are and congressional approval ratings at record lows — and with other major issues like the Affordable Care Act on the table — policymakers appear eager to make the most of the temporary fiscal ceasefire and take some sort of action before the holiday recess. Negotiators headed by committee co-chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are expected to make an announcement related to between $100 billion and $200 billion in spending cuts by December 13.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said during ABC’s ”This Week” on Sunday that policymakers are “making progress” and “moving in the right direction.” Ed Lorzen, a senior adviser to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, told Bloomberg that “they are really close to a deal.”
On the surface, the news is encouraging. Policymakers who have gained a reputation for inaction seem poised to at least do something. Any sort of deal out of the budget committee could signal a repairing of relationships between Democrats and Republicans, who in October both appeared willing to go down with the ship over differences in their fiscal strategies.
The talks, though, stink of cans being kicked down the road. Many of the potential compromises in question, such as softening the blow of short-term spending cuts, are unsatisfactory to both sides and fail to address legitimate core concerns. America’s fiscal house is dilapidated, and meaningful spending cuts will have to be part of the process of repairing it. At the same time, social programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance need more than just attention — they need systemic reform.
Whatever proposal emerges in the next few days is likely to fall under the stopgap umbrella. But expectations being what they are, it may be fair to call any deal that avoids a repeat of October a victory.