The Perpetual Budget Crisis

Friends of mine who only vaguely follow the federal budget process (i.e. normal people) sometimes ask me why the government seems to be in perpetual crisis mode regarding the budget, debt ceiling etc. This blog post from Jared Bernstein offers several suggestions that make sense to me:

How Did It Come to This?

That’s an important question that I’ll largely leave to political scientists.  Someone the other day suggested that once Congressional leaders could no longer dole out earmarks to members of their caucus, they lost an important disciplinary tool—“break with your leaders and you won’t get that bridge!”  The political scientists I’ve asked about this say, “maybe,” but the Hill vets tend to put a lot of weight on this explanation.

I’ve argued that wealth concentration has interacted with money in politics such that folks like the Koch’s can buy the politics they—not the parties’ leaders funded by establishment money—want (they can also buy the “think tanks” to explain why they’re right [sic]).

And, as budget expert Maya MacGuineas noted the other day on a panel we were on together, don’t underestimate the damage done by not having a budget.  All this fiscal patchwork—“continuing resolutions”—means there’s never a lasting agreement on receipts and outlays that both sides have hammered out together.  That creates endless oxygen for the renegades to get their crazy on.

Finally, it really does seem to be the case that the obstructionists are doing the bidding of their constituents.  One House R was quoted in the paper the other day saying, essentially: the folks back in my district would rather see me work to shut down the government and default on the debt then compromise.  And I’m gonna listen to them, not Boehner and Cantor.

I might add one more: it appears that the people doing the negotiating really don’t like each other very much.