For the first time in a generation, Congress has failed to pass an annual budget and instead “deemed” one to have passed. What initially seemed to be an attempt to avoid political fallout from record-setting deficits for FY2011 now seems to be a clever move to prevent reconciliation from being used to defund Obama’s agenda.
It is entirely plausible that the GOP will take back Congress, and there is a possibility, however remote, that they could also take the majority in the Senate. Even if both happen, the Republicans will not have a filibuster-proof majority—but they also don’t need one. Budget reconciliation allows the Senate to make changes to existing legislature, if it will decrease the spending in the existing budget. And it only requires a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 votes needed for cloture.
Democrats took advantage of this option after Scott “41” Brown won Massachusetts. After over a year of ping-ponging ObamaCare back-and-forth to pass it, the final changes were made in a reconciliation bill in the Senate and then sent back to Congress for approval. The decision came with its baggage—and a hearty serving of hypocrisy—but ultimately it was the least-controversial of the strategies used to pass healthcare reform.
Republicans could find themselves in a similar position next year—with majorities in both houses but lacking a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate—and in theory, this could allow them to minimize the damage done by the bills that have already passed, in addition to any that might pass between now and January.
Unfortunately, this is where the lack of a Congressional budget comes in.
The Senate can’t use budget reconciliation to reduce spending if there isn’t a budget to reconcile. This means that short of repeal, monstrous big-spending bills like ObamaCare are here to stay. While repeal is a great campaign platform for Republicans to run on, it’s not a viable option, either. As with new legislation—that could be written in direct conflict to existing ones and used as a trump card—repeal would require the president’s signature for passage. In refusing to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget, the Democrats took away the single most-valuable political tool that could be used against them.
Technically, the rules of the budget process mandate that any reconciliation legislation be considered by Congress before June 15th. However, far more frequently that date is ignored and the decision on whether a reasonable deadline has passed is decided by agreement of Congress and the President. This rule is enough on its own to derail reconciliation attempts, even if a budget had passed.
Expecting Obama and a Republican-majority Congress to agree on whether or not to cut funding to ObamaCare is like expecting Pelosi to turn down an offer of free Botox.
What this means going forward into the election is that the Democrats—who already know that they are doomed to minority-party status until at least the next mid-term election—have unprecedented motivation to abuse the lame-duck session of Congress.
Ordinarily, a party on its way out of power has the temptation to abuse the post-election session, but at least is restrained by the knowledge that funding for their bills will be out of their hands. Not so, this time around. Cap and Trade is still yet to pass, and with another oil spill conveniently popping up, the opportunity for debate continues on. Even if the Democrats are timid enough to let C&T rest until November, they can sign it into law—and add on Card Check and the union stimulus that they failed to insert into the Afghanistan funding bill—after already being voted out of office.
Democrats are insisting that they have “no secret plan” to pass new legislation during the lame-duck session, but this is the same party that claimed ObamaCare wouldn’t add a dime to the deficit and that unemployment insurance was the best way to create jobs.
They will try to pass additional legislation. However even if they don’t, what they’ve already passed is here to stay—at least until after the newly-red Congress gets the chance to create a FY2012 budget. For all the verbal missteps and the countless nonsensical remarks that Democrats make, in one single move they managed to handcuff the incoming batch of politicians and grant their achievements invulnerability. Democrats have tipped their hand and revealed themselves, or at least some among them, to have a touch of idiot savant in addition to their isocracy. The question now becomes not whether they will find a way to keep a Republican majority from undoing the damage they’ve caused, but rather what other tricks they may have up their sleeves.