Impact of midterm elections: budget kerfuffle

Now that the dust has finally settled on Capitol Hill and Republicans wait for control in the House of Representatives once the lame-duck session closes, the nation anxiously waits to see what the next two years have in store. This power shakeup will potentially cripple President Obama’s congressional agenda and could threaten those reforms he has managed to push through. Will a split Congress be able to compromise in hopes of moving forward or will partisanship bring the legislative branch to a harmful gridlock?

Though ultimately onlookers can only speculate and predict what the future holds, leadership from both parties have clearly stated their would-be-goals. As of now, optimism for cooperative action seems premature at best.

The Grand Old Party, in their ever-practical reactionary way, has declared that for the good of America, the looming national budget deficit must be addressed by means of huge slashes in government spending. Where might these cuts be implemented? GOP proposals have ranged from cuts in domestic spending programs such as Medicare/Medicaid, bill earmarks, Social Security and other government programs. “President Obama, Congressional Democrats and their liberal allies have made it abundantly clear that they will attack anyone who puts forward a plan that even tries to begin a conversation about the tough choices that are needed,” stated Republican House Whip Eric Cantor. His party sees repealing of the recent Affordable Care Act that extends medical coverage to 32 million previously uninsured Americans as one the these ‘tough choices’.

Though Republicans accept that a full repeal of the health care bill remains out of reach due to their lack of dominance in the Senate, they plan to attack the reform incrementally by cutting funds through federal budgets to those offices that are integral in the implementation of the recent act. “If all of Obamacare cannot be immediately repealed, then it is my intention to begin repealing it piece by piece, blocking funding for its implementation and blocking the issuance of the regulations necessary to implement it,” Mr. Cantor contested. For example, this campaign of attrition will seek to reduce funds and personnel available to the Internal Revenue Service in hopes of hindering the department’s ability to enforce adoption of health care reforms, such as mandated coverage and employer provided health care. Given this attitude of staunch obstructionalism, Democrats in the House and the Senate are ready to present a united front in order to prevent the untimely downfall of health care reform.

Yet while Republicans take aim at social programs they deem as an overextension of federal governance as a means to lower the budget deficit, they fervently and unabashedly support the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans, a measure due to expire come year’s end. Touting the need to support high-earning business that employ roughly 25% of American workers, proponents of the extensions assert that taxing the individuals who own these businesses will cause layoffs and wage reductions amidst the economic crisis. Some supporters even endorse a permanent extension of these tax breaks for the top 2% of Americans. However, reports demonstrate that even a limited extension mirroring those approved in 2003 under President Bush will cost the federal government over $700 billion in the next 10 years. Additionally, GOP legislators refuse to reduce military spending or to consider reducing the size of appropriations for weapons and aircraft acquisition programs.

The much-anticipated report from President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (created to analyze issues surrounding the budget deficit) was finally published in November, subsequently causing unrest in both parties. The commission called for severe long-term cuts in domestic spending (for example by reducing funding for Medicare and raising the Social Security retirement age) while pushing for hikes in tax rates for both individuals and business. House Republicans have little wiggle room fearing a loss of support from newly elected Tea Party candidates who condemn any reference in which taxes are positively associated with, well…anything. Less reactionary Republicans have yet to experience how obstreperous their energized conservative companions will prove; it is in the nation’s best interest for Congress to pass a federal budget before the end of this lame-duck session, else the government be rendered ineffective. If the budget remains undecided by December 3rd, the federal government will find itself without the legal authority to spend money on anything, including House Speaker Boehner’s spray-on tanning expenses.