Lose Ends: Austerity vs. Stimulus, Fiscal Follies, Guns, Immigration

Mandatory Vs. Discretionary Spending

Mandatory Vs. Discretionary Spending (Photo credit: Public Agenda)

Austerity vs. Stimulus:  If you read my previous post, you might be sick of this topic, or still in the process of reading some of the linked articles.   Had I known that day the Stephen Colbert was going to cover the Rogoff-Weinhard controversy that night, I would have saved what I wrote until after you watched his show.   With his usual well informed wit, he did a great job of  summing up the issue in an enjoyable way.   Check it out at Colbert Report.

Also, if you want ongoing updates, keep checking the Paul Krugman link in my Blogroll, as he has his teeth into it like a dog with a bone.

Fiscal Follies:  While economists debate the big issues of macroeconomics, congress mucks along keeping the government going with one patch work deal after another.   To recap:  Congress got over one hurdle awhile back by passing a continuing resolution to fund the government until the end of the fiscal year in September.  That’s one step to keeping it financed and functioning.

Actually helping the budget is the sequester, which made more-or-less across the board cuts in non-discretionary spending.  However, while helping the budget it hurts some and irritates others in the process.  With the reduction of air controllers, for example, there has been the expansion of airport lines and waits on tarmacs.  Ah, but today I heard about some bill making its way through congress to alleviate that situation by moving funds from somewhere else.   Ever hear of that old expression “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul?”  Ad hoc government is becoming our specialty.

The next big ad hock decision will be raising the debt ceiling again.  I have been saying that would come around late May, because the legislative deal in January indicated May 19.  But it turns out it also allowed Treasury  “extraordinary accounting measures to help delay hitting the ceiling”… so early August seems the time for the next shoot out at the OK Corral.   The Republicans have been developing a bill in the House this week aimed to shore up their position for the upcoming battle.

Gun Control:   I realize the issue is often talked about as “gun safety” these days,  so as not to rankle gun owners, but I’ll stick with “control” for now.   Everyone knows the Senate failed to pass a background checks bill despite numerous polls indicating nearly 90% of public approval.   President Obama has been blamed by some for not twisting enough arms to get the bill to the House, but as I argued in an April 12 post, that’s not who he is.

Perhaps he could stretch his norm, but why do it just to get the bill to the House where it will go nowhere?  I believe that as congress is now constructed (both in terms of people and procedures), very little of consequence will get passed before 2014.  But a “paper trail” will be developed for the 2014 mid-terms and Republican general recalcitrance might, just might alienate enough voters to tip the House back into Democrat hands and in turn the possibility of a functioning congress again.    With that in mind, this gun control setback might actually aid a later election win, if we can believe the overwhelming support for background checks in the polls.

Immigration:  Some sort of integration deal might come to pass because elements in both parties see it as advantageous to themselves.   The question is, assuming a bill gets out of the Senate, whether the Tea Party types in the House will be strong enough to stick a monkey wrench into any deal.  Will Speaker Boehner be willing and able to garner enough Republican support to combine with the Democrats to get something passed?  A column by Dana Milbank yesterday provides some insight as to how hard it is for House leadership to marshal the Republican troops.

So ends this thumbnail report on our creaky ship of state.