The budget skirmish ends, the war begins

The end is in sight. Or is it?

At the end of the day, Republican and Democratic leaders were able to get past their barbs and come up with a deal that could keep the federal government renewing passports, refunding taxes, and paying the troops.

Still, both Republicans and Democrats are girding for the next wars: the vote to raise the debt ceiling that'll come this spring and could lead to the first federal default in American history if the tea party prevents it from being raised. Within moments of President Obama hailing the deal that was struck, the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hoped that the debt limit vote would be an occasion for more spending cuts. And then there is next year's budget where the House Republicans are already pushing the plan developed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who would cut some $6 trillion from the federal government over the next decade and voucherize Medicare. What's past really is prologue.

Historians call the beginning of World War II "The Phony War." After the Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, Great Britain and her allies declared war on Germany. But their armies didn't really clash until May 1940. Churchill called it "The Twilight War" while the Germans punnily called the it the "Sitzkrieg," a lackadaisical Blitzkrieg.

What we've just seen is a phony war in Washington, a quibble over a few billion that presages the fight over trillions.

It's hard to see how anybody goes into the real battle stronger, prouder. The Democrats had to give on money in order to rid themselves of the effort to staunch the flow of federal money to Planned Parenthood. The Republicans realized how hard it was to shave a few billion off the federal budget. Just wait until they tell seniors that Medicare is about to change big time. Can the White House really go another couple of years without a long-term plan for reducing a federal debt that's north of $14 trillion now close to 100 percent of our GDP? If they do, they'll be fighting on the Republicans' terms.

Alas, this little shutdown fiasco ended with both sides having just enough strut and gumption to want to pick another fight. Neither side feels chastened, humbled. They probably should.

And what of the presidential candidates, the many Republicans who are considering running against President Obama? In a reversal of roles, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was the voice of reason in her party, counseling on Friday that House Speaker John Boehner should cut a deal and save his pluckiness for another day. We've yet to hear from the other would-be commanders in chief, but at some point they'll have to offer their approval or disapproval over this little episode. It's a good bet that whatever they say about this skirmish they'll promise a wider war.

The other thing we've been reminded of is how the abortion wars remain unresolved. Obama's health care deal nearly fell apart over abortion funding within his own party. This time the mere flow of money to organizations that provide abortions was enough to nearly close Yellowstone and halt military pay. Roe v. Wade will be 40 in a couple of years, but almost two generations after the 1973 court decision the country is still divided, a chasm magnified by politicians who treat this emotional, complex issue with all the sensitivity of carnival barkers.

Earlier this week, Conan O'Brien joked on his show about a country that's guaranteed Jersey Shore for another season but can't promise to keep the government open. Now it stays open -- but the coming wars over spending and social issues and priorities will be anything but phony or funny.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.