Congress is getting ready to party like it's 1995. It was the year of "Braveheart", Alanis Morissette, Windows 95, and a 21-day government shut down. Sixteen years later history may repeat itself. Without another short-term funding measure, the federal government will run out of money and close for business on March 4th.
In 1995, the Republican led Congress clashed with a Democratic President over budget priorities. That was only similarity. Back in the mid-90s, the country was experiencing economic growth and low unemployment. Today, the American people have felt the sting of a deep recession and years of partisan bickering. Frustration with the economy and the growing federal deficit has changed the political climate. Neither party wants to be blamed for a shutdown nor seen as obstructionists. It has been widely reported that both parties have entered into negotiations to find common ground before the March 4th deadline.
Over the weekend, the Republican led House cut $60 billion in the current fiscal year's budget. The Democratic controlled Senate promptly ignored this action and began a week-long recess. Most likely, the Senate will introduce another temporary spending proposal when it returns. However, it is unclear how the House would react to a temporary measure, or if Speak Boehner can sway his members toward compromise.
Speaking on CBS "Face the Nation," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said "…we'll probably have some short-term extension while we negotiate these things with spending cuts…We're not looking for a government shutdown. And I think we'll have some negotiation with short-term extensions with spending cuts in the interim is my guess." Nevertheless, Republicans have so far said no to a temporary measure that will keep the government running for thirty days at 2011 levels.
Like many things, people only care about a looming crisis if it directly affects them. If a shutdown occurs most people won't notice a difference; air traffic controllers will still work, the trains will still run, and the snow will continued to be plowed (forever it seems). So who will notice? Individuals who seek passports and visas will be stalled, applicants for Social Security or other benefit programs will also be delayed, and federal workers may face a furlough.
So why should you care? It's irresponsible and embarrassing that we can't get our financial house in order. The deficit needs to be reduced, but to try to balance the budget by cutting only non-discretionary programs is a gimmick that won't work.
American's cry for budget cuts as long it's not a program or service they need. You would be hard pressed to find a family in this country that hasn't benefited from some government program. Whether it's home care or a Medicaid subsidized nursing home for an aging parent, or Pell grants and taxpayers subsidized tuition at state colleges and universities for their college-aged child, government programs wind through the lives of most Americans.
Keep that in mind as the budget debate moves forward and both parties posture to be deficit hawks and defenders of the middle class.