March 4, 2013

Today House Republicans released a new measure designed to fund the government after the shutdown deadline and until September. The plan continues funding at the lower sequester levels but makes changes to defense spending designed to mitigate the cuts’ impact.

What does it mean? If you read some of the reporting out there, a shocking (if temporary) peace has broken out  on the budget wars, with both sides preferring to wait until at least the end of the fiscal year in the fall for the next real showdown. But is that really what’s going on?

It sure seems to me that there are a lot of unanswered questions before we get to September without a government shutdown or worse. Among them:

* Will Democrats, as Nancy Pelosi suggested last week, force Republicans to come up with all the votes to pass the Continuing Resolution needed to keep the government running beyond March? Note that the top Democrat on House Appropriations, Nita Lowey, was “disappointed” by at least some of the substance in the Republican CR.

* Will Republicans have the votes to pass this relatively “clean” CR by themselves? Or will they have to make further changes to appease conservatives? Or will they, as Democrats hope, need to make concessions in the direction of Democrats in order to win over enough Dems to pass it?

* Whatever Republicans do: will Senate Democrats pass their own version of a funding extension, to challenge Republicans? If so, will Republicans be willing to really negotiate their differences in a conference committee — and if their leadership does that, can a compromise pass the House?

* Will Democrats really accept a CR funding the government through the summer…without doing anything about the debt limit, which is scheduled to expire well before the fiscal year ends?

* If not, is there any reason to expect Republicans to simply extend the debt limit again without attempting to extract more concessions from the White House?

* Overall: are stories about budget agreement deliberate spin (from the White House? From House Republicans? Both?) intended to position the other side as the one that broke the peace? Or: does one side or both really intend peace through September, but just doesn’t see these fights coming? Or: have they in fact agreed to pass a clean CR and a clean debt limit extension?

I really don’t know the answers to any of these; the reporting is either vague, contradictory, or just plain missing. From what I have seen, however, I agree with what Brian Beutler has been saying: expectations of even a temporary peace are premature.