The Coming Train Wreck over the Federal Budget

Members of Congress are coming back to Washington next week to finish up their work on the 14 giant appropriations bills that make up the federal budget. President Clinton is coming back to Washington with his veto pen in hand and inside the beltway buffs are getting ready for the big train wreck on October 1st which marks the beginning of the 1996 fiscal year.

What will happen when Republicans fail to pass a budget that President Clinton will sign by September 30th? President Reagan got his back up on more than one occasion and shut down Washington sending as many people home as he could. The odds are that Clinton will do the same because he has got to prove that he is still relevant. In fact, the Administration has already briefed Cabinet departments and agencies on just who should go to work when that happens.

The interesting contrast is that back in the 1980s the Democratic congress was trying to force Ronald Reagan into a tax hike. Republicans are trying to force Mr. Clinton into a tax cut and smaller increases in spending in order to balance the budget in seven years. The question in Washington is who will blink first.

Republicans have taken preemptive measures of sending out a host of budget experts to explain what will happen to the press so they won’t scare people into thinking all the air traffic controllers will go home and Social Security checks won’t be delivered. If there is no agreement and no Continuing Resolution bear in mind that appropriations bills only effect what is called discretionary spending. Social Security, Medicare and welfare are all on automatic pilot.

Also, the president has the authority to keep the essential functions of the government going, like the Post Office, the Department of Defense, guards at government buildings and those air traffic controllers. It’s all those non-essential programs and the government employees who keep them going who will be affected. We’ll just have to do without those National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Department of Education, farm subsidies and corporate welfare checks for a while. In other words, all the things that Republicans should have eliminated but didn’t, will be gone at least temporarily.

So, prepare to sit back and enjoy it while you can however briefly. Those Republican big spenders in the Senate are already sending signals that they’re willing to compromise, again, in order to save their pet programs. The real train wreck will come in the primaries when some of those GOP fat-cats will be run down by a new crop of deficit hawks.

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