Architect of the Capitol

Yay! We’re Back to Traditional Dysfunctional Spending Negotiations

A guide to the stages of budget brinksmanship.

In the wake of the longest government shutdown in history, negotiations over a massive federal spending measure have returned to their traditional level of dysfunction. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing, because at least then there’s some level of predictability to the process. Indeed, it usually unfolds in some or all of the following stages. (Keep in mind that between any of them, a shutdown could occur or continuing resolution be enacted, in which case the process is rebooted at the beginning.)

  • We’re appointing a bipartisan group to get a deal worked out.
  • We’re making progress!
  • No wait, talks have stalled.
  • We are pleased to announce an agreement in principle!
  • Veiled/actual presidential veto threat.
  • Lawmaker not included on negotiating team: I don’t know anything about this deal, and may not support it.
  • Non-germane issue becomes bone of contention.
  • Random (or lately, Rand) senator filibuster threat.
  • To hell with it, we’re voting anyway.
  • We haven’t even had time to read this bill, and they’re asking us to vote on it!
  • Members of a particular House caucus threaten to pull support; only those facing a legitimate potential primary challenge actually do so.
  • Measure passes.
  • Partisans on both sides claim near-complete victory. Congressional leaders say no one got all they wanted, but a spirit of compromise prevailed that heralds the possibility of a new era of bipartisanship. (Such an era does not ensue.)
  • President reluctantly signs it, while decrying the whole process.