Two days before funding for government services was scheduled to run out, on Tuesday Congress passed a bill to temporarily finance the government for two weeks. The short-term solution also came with $4 billion in cuts to current federal spending.
Making it easier for Democrats to get on board, those reductions hit areas that President Obama had already proposed cutting in his 2012 budget, such as the Smithsonian Legacy Fund, election assistance grants, and earmark spending for special state projects.
Now lawmakers have another two weeks to figure something out. Republicans already have a plan, using their House majority to demand a Continuing Resolution that would slash $61 billion from discretionary funds through the fiscal year. Democrats say such deep cuts are unacceptable, however, and the president has threatened to veto the legislation.
It’s a formula for more short-term spending bills, allowing Republicans to reach their goal bit by bit.
The president expressed approval of the bill’s two-week funding extension, but his pleasure stopped there. “We cannot keep doing business this way,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy.”
He urged congressional leaders to meet with White House officials immediately, and work on finding common ground. But with common ground having eluded the two parties so far, it seems doubtful that anything agreeable will emerge.
"I could see it going a number of ways," Rebecca Thiess, policy analyst for the Economic Policy Institute told The Root, noting a likelihood of more two-week compromises. “The worst-case scenario would be for Democrats to agree to the [House Republicans'] continuing resolution, and have that get passed to fund the government for the rest of the year.”
Aside from striking a blow to low-income people – given its heavy cuts to human services including early childhood education programs, Pell Grants, job training services and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition supplemental program – Thiess says the GOP spending bill would also slash about 800,000 public sector jobs.
“In terms of long-term debt issues, it would a blip on the radar,” she said. “Our long-term issues are not caused by these discretionary programs that Republicans are going after.”
Meanwhile, President Obama’s stand on this feels oddly feeble. At Monday’s White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney even said that the White House was willing to agree to a 30-day deal that would have come with $8 billion in cuts. It’s a direction that, instead of adding anything to the debate, seems to give in to GOP demands.
After $4 billion here, $8 billion there, and so on down the line, Republicans aren't going to stop and be satisfied. Instead this feels more like: 4 billion down, 57 billion to go.