Now it looks like that’s not going to happen. The sense of urgency is not there.
Thanks to shrinking federal deficits, an improving economy, a slowdown in the increase in health-care costs and political intransigence, the federal fiscal outlook is much less grim than when talk of the bargain began.
The federal government had been expected to reach its debt ceiling this spring, at which point the administration would have to ask Congress to raise the borrowing limit so the government could keep functioning.
But now the Congressional Budget Office says the government won’t hit the debt ceiling until October or November. The threat of a government shutdown has generally proved a great motivator for Congress, but long-range thinking — “long-range” meaning sometime after the August recess — has never been lawmakers’ strong suit.
And by then there won’t be time to do much because of the press of other work.
Both the House and Senate are writing budget bills — the Senate for the first time in four years — but they are likely to be irreconcilable. The GOP-run House is inclined to stick with the spending caps in the sequester bill except for military and veterans spending. There will be allowances made for program cuts that seriously annoy the public. Congress restored money to the Federal Aviation Administration after sequestration-caused furloughs resulted in widespread flight delays.
The Senate is writing a $1.058 trillion spending bill that assumes — wrongly, in all likelihood — that some kind of deficit-reduction deal will be reached. The two sides might yet come to an agreement.
Miracles do happen, and a miracle is what it would take.
What’s more likely come Oct. 1 is that Congress will pass temporary, short-term spending bills, which is too bad because the time to deal with the budget and the deficit is now, when the situation is improving, rather than wait for the inevitable crisis.