On GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER:
But up front: Just about everybody is back to it after holiday distractions.
The big story, of course, was sequestration -- or fiscal cliff, as the mainstream media put it.
Chris Dorobek writes, as most of the people I spoke to predicted, the White House and Congress worked out a deal, kind of. (It is interesting because some people termed the 112th Congress the “do nothing” Congress. It always seemed to me it was more the “deadline” Congress -- they got it done, eventually... at the last minute. But it actually seems like it was the “brinkmanship” Congress -- no issue was too small to wage all-out war.)
The agreement has been widely criticized. The most recent cover of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a photo of the House of Representatives with the headline, “BABIES.”
“To praise this fiscal-cliff deal as an accomplishment is to praise an arsonist for extinguishing his own fire. Why have Americans been sentenced to this years-long cycle of pettiness, delay, and zero-sum gamesmanship?”
And the cover of the always erudite Economist magazine merely says, “America turns European: A broken system, a lousy deal and no end in sight...”
And it is the subhed of that headline that is the big takeaway for government: It is likely that the 113th Congress will just be a continuation of the brinkmanship Congress from the past two years. (Does anybody have a count as to many many times federal agencies had to prepare for a shutdown... only to be averted at the last minute?)
On GovLoop, Ken Gold, Director of the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, notes that the fiscal cliff agreement doesn’t address the pay freeze for federal workers in any way.
And in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Suzy Khimm writes:
The next stage of the ‘fiscal cliff’ fight has officially begun- In the next stage of the “fiscal cliff” fight — news outlets are already calling it the “debt ceiling fight,” though the White House would probably prefer to think of it as a sequester fight — the debate will essentially boil down to two questions: What kind of entitlement and spending cuts will Republicans be demanding? And will Democrats manage to get revenue on the table? On the Sunday morning shows, leaders from both parties laid down their opening positions.
Politico says that February promises to be the crucial month for advocates of the Pentagon and myriad other federal agencies still threatened by sequestration. Automatic across-the-board spending cuts delayed through the fiscal cliff agreement likely won’t be turned off unless President Barack Obama and House Republicans can reach an agreement by the end of next month to extend the nation’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. With the two parties starting miles apart on how to avert a global financial meltdown, defense contractors, public health officials, teachers, air traffic controllers, police officers and many others are once again caught in the middle as they try to save more than $100 billion from being sliced out of the federal coffers this year alone.
And there are a Trio of budget-related measures could affect federal workforce in coming months, the Washington Post says: the fights over the debt limit... the fight about sequestration... and the end of the fiscal 2014 continuing resolution.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza questions if bargains -- grand or otherwise -- are even possible these days?
Regardless, as we well know, all of this has real impacts. In one of the best assessments of the cost of all this brinkmanship was in Bloomburg BusinessWeek last month: The High Cost of Congress's Budget Procrastination
Procrastination has a price tag.
The uncertainty creates all kinds of inefficiencies, according to a new report by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, a Washington think tank. Agency officials told the report’s author, University of Maryland School of Public Policy professor Philip Joyce, that federal contractors build a risk premium into their fees, charging back to taxpayers the extra uncertainty of potential funding disruptions. Agency leaders also have trouble staffing for new projects when there’s no budget. They have to resort to signing contracts on a monthly rather than an annual basis. Because every contract costs money to close, more contracts mean greater administrative and legal costs.
Defense News has a example of the cost of inaction. The 112th Congress ended without approving a normally routine measure, the Naval Vessel Transfer Act, which would allow the Navy to transfer old ships to ally countries, reports Christopher P. Cavas of Defense News. "Failure of the transfer bill means the Navy will now need to spend millions of dollars, U.S. ship repairers won't get a hefty dose of foreign work, and allied countries won't have the chance - at least for now - to avail themselves of surplus U.S. Navy warships."
All of that being said, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday suggested that we need to get over the all-budget-all-the-time fixation and move on to actually fixing problems:
I think I'm the only person here who thinks it is a better deal than it's gotten credit for. The Congressman and I both love baseball. If you keep hitting singles and actually start scoring runs you could win the game. And I think to say that this was the easy part, since when is raising taxes, $620 billion, the easy part?
I agree that there were flaws in this deal. There were things I wish it had done. The real question is what we do now. And in a sense, I'd like to challenge the whole premise of this conversation, because we can spend all our time arguing about how to fix the debt in 2035 and what to do about 2035, or we can stabilize the debt at a rate that's way below Greece, way below most countries with a deal of about $600 billion in revenue, $600 billion in spending. And then we can start dealing with the problems we face now. Getting more job growth, above all. Broadly shared economic growth. And dealing with problems like gun violence and immigration and education and infrastructure. We've got to stop being accountants. I think if we're going to keep talking like these we might as well have a Constitutional amendment requiring all members of Congress to be accountants, because all we're going to be … doing for four years is talking about budget.
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