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The coming federal budget fight

easy-chairThis spring and summer, Congress must wrestle again with issues of military and entitlement spending, deficits, austerity, sequesters, debt ceiling, government shutdown and default, the GOP’s hatred of Obamacare and Obama’s immigration policies, and its burning desire to get Keystone XL built. It will all come to a head when, first, House and Senate Republicans have to resolve their own budget differences, and then pass a budget that won’t draw a presidential veto. It looks like Mission Impossible.

The reality is we have three, not two, political parties in Congress: The Democrats, the Pragmatic Republicans, and the Tea Party. The Democrats are the largest of these parties, but do not have governing power in Congress because the PR’s and TP’s have formed a Coalition From Hell that ensures gridlock at best, and collapse under normal circumstances, except for the relatively rare occasions when PR’s feel inclined to team up with Democrats to save the country and their own skins.

1cf9_shark_plush_slippersIt’s crystal clear that PR’s and TR’s can’t get their austere, balanced-budget, entitlement-slashing, military-funding, Obamacare-repealing, anti-immigrant, and Keystone-authorizing legislative agenda past President Obama’s veto pen. Of course, that won’t stop them from pouring their legislative energies into exactly that for the purpose of grandstanding to their base.

But if anything is to get done — a budget passed, the economy kept plugged into life support, government employees and social security pensioners paid — then House Speaker Boehner will have to do what he always does: Defy his own caucus, make concessions Democrats will accept, and then pass the bills necessary to keep the lights on in D.C. with a mix of roughly 2/3 Democratic votes and 1/3 PR votes. He’ll do it partly from his own sense of self-preservation, partly because Senate Majority Leader Mitch O’Connell will pressure him to do it, and partly because both understand that a debt default would piss off their Wall Street patrons, another government shutdown would piss off the public, and neither would be helpful in facing the already-daunting challenges of retaining their Senate majority and defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

3_qt_Popcorn_Bowl_1So, Boehner and McConnell will grandstand, hem and haw, then do business with the Democrats. They have to; they have no other choice; and they know it. But they can’t admit it without alienating their base. So this spring and summer will bring a great big charade in Congress. You know what to do. (See images.)

For CNN’s analysis (which I’ve drawn on to write this piece, although it also reflects my take), click here.


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