December 16, 2013
When the Senate takes up the budget agreement this week, it will bring more than just fiscal relief.
For lawmakers, it will end four years of operating without a budget and bouncing from crisis to crisis, topped by a government shutdown that forced many to trim staff. Call it budget fatigue.
"That's a good way of putting it," says Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
The constant fiscal battles of recent years sucked up bandwidth in Congress. They landed lawmakers in fights that could not be won, tainting the politics and eclipsing other important issues. The lopsided and bipartisan passage of what is universally referred to as a small budget deal in the House on Thursday shows how eager some lawmakers are to move on.
"They are looking forward to doing the things we want to do instead of fighting over shutdowns all the time," said Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan last week. "We're just happy that we're getting this place working again."
Of course, the compromise agreement, in bill form that is expected to pass in the Senate this week--a cloture vote is expected on Tuesday--is nobody's version of perfect.
And still to be worked out are appropriations bills showing how spending will be parsed for this fiscal year and next. The bills should be passed by Jan. 15, when the current spending mechanism for government expires—and those could cause battles of their own.
In addition, the debt-ceiling suspension runs out Feb. 7, potentially sparking renewed fighting over government borrowing, although the Congressional Budget Office says various cash-management strategies at the Treasury Department could push the prospect of default into March or later.
But for now, Congress is venturing into harmonic territory that it has not walked for some time.
Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., says that budget weariness is real, but adds that it extends to the American public. "I think there's a little fatigue on their part from all of this mess," he said.
Rep. Tom Price, the No. 2 Republican after Ryan on the Budget Committee, agrees that much of the country is tired.
"When I'm home, what I hear from folks is we've got to get something done," he said. "The uncertainty that is out there, the frustration that people have is real. That is translated to us as well. We can't continue to lurch from crisis to crisis to crisis and expect any wise decisions are going to come out of it."
He added: "I think this relieves a lot of pressure. I think it lowers the temperature, and hopefully makes it so we can get some real things done on the policy side."
Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, calls the constant budget and fiscal turmoil "a drag."
Thompson said the long string of temporary, stop-gap budget measures in lieu of real deals has hindered legislative work to solve other problems lawmakers need to address. "I have nothing good to say about continuing resolutions. That's not only a drag. That's a nightmare," he said. "This puts us back into regular order and for a two-year process. It's pretty exciting from my perspective. And we didn't raise taxes to do it."
Still, for some, there will be lingering resentment and budget-war wounds.
"The reality is, we're a little over $17 trillion in debt—and if we continue on that path, it will harm this country in the way no military power has ever been able to do," said Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican. "Consequently, those of us concerned about that grow a little weary of our friends on the left being unable to see the train that is coming at all of us.
"And we are the ones portrayed as the bad guys," he said.
But Hastings is optimistic that a new era of bipartisan budget cooperation has dawned. "My hope is this is just the beginning," he said.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, says that what lawmakers are feeling isn't just budget-battle fatigue.
"I think that understates it. This is something else. This is maybe a recognition that we've gone too far in our constant fighting," he said. "We can't go home and play the same old song."
As he put it, "Even we are tired of it."
(Image via J Main/Shutterstock.com)
December 16, 2013