But what do those resolutions amount to? They amount to little more than a framework that is supposed to lead to substantive negotiations about the fiscal issues that have divided President Obama and Republican lawmakers for years. Only in Washington would that be considered an accomplishment.
Official Washington is once again in that position, scrambling ahead of another deadline with the country on hold and the economy at risk. But think about what the two sides were talking about Tuesday. In its cleanest form, one piece would fund the government for a relatively short period of time — a matter of months. The second would give the government the power to keep borrowing money until early February.
But even that was proving more difficult than expected because of the inexplicable intervention of House Republican leaders, who disrupted bipartisan negotiations in the Senate that appeared to be headed toward an agreement by deciding to move their own measure — only to realize that they didn’t have enough votes to pass it.
By early evening, the House GOP appeared to be in chaos, as rank-and-file members were abandoning the leadership’s latest effort to attach additional provisions to a clean funding bill and a clean debt-ceiling extension.
This is no longer about real issues. It’s about one side determined to claim total victory and the other, which blundered into the fight, looking to find a way to save face. However it ends, the two sides would once again be left to resolve budget differences that long have escaped them.
This downward spiral began with the collapse of the debt-ceiling negotiations two years ago. When Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) were unable to produce the so-called grand bargain, the result was a compromise that set up a process that has been a failure by almost any measure.
That debt-ceiling agreement created a “super committee” whose job was to deal with the substantive differences on issues such as entitlement reform, spending and revenue. The super committee punted and allowed future spending levels to be set by automatic triggers — known as sequestration — that no one really wanted to take effect. Sequestration is now the law of the land and at the heart of what must be resolved — again.
The 2012 campaign interrupted the process of dealing with the country’s fiscal problems and, in the end, the campaign failed to settle differences between the two parties. Republicans and Democrats came out of that election just as divided as when they went into it, with Obama in the White House, Republicans still in control of the House and the two camps listening to different coalitions.