Crafting a Budget Grand Compromise

As long as we're tacking on unrelated measures in order to secure a deal to end the government shutdown-debt ceiling standoff, why not some related measures?


As long as we’re tacking on unrelated measures in order to secure a deal to end the government shutdown-debt ceiling standoff, why not some related measures? In an ideal world, I’d like to see a resolution to the crisis that achieved three major outcomes:

Repeal the Antideficiency Act of 1870 or at least overturn the 1980 interpretation of the law that requires a government shutdown if no budget is passed. It’s simply absurd to suspend federal government services and put the lives of hundreds of thousands of people into turmoil over a short-term political standoff. It’s stupidly expensive and wasteful and was not in fact our practice until late in the Carter Administration. Further, given that we have historically awarded affected employees back pay after the fact, it’s a poke in the eye of the taxpayer.

Repeal the Debt Ceiling.  No other country requires that it give itself permission to borrow money that it has already committed to pay. It’s especially bizarre in that the same legislative body that passed the budget—or, in recent years, failed to pass a budget but passed a continuing resolution—comes back a few weeks later and creates a crisis over the borrowing that is inherently necessary to pay for said budget.

Repeal annual budgeting in favor of a two-year cycle. Even in a world where the parties weren’t wildly polarized and compromise were more easily attainable, it has long since stopped making sense to figure out how to allocate nearly 4 trillion on an annual basis. Not only is it too complicated at this point to do meaningful realignments every year but it would make much more sense to give agencies discretion to spend their allotted funds over two years.

Getting these major reforms in the present context is nearly unthinkable. Maybe President Obama and the Democrats could make some major concession on Obamacare, such as repealing or postponing the unpopular individual mandate, while the Republicans could back away from the sequester, which was proposed by Obama and company as a poison pill but ultimately embraced by the Tea Party as the only viable means of achieving major budget cuts?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. David M says:

    No objections to any of that here, although I think the GOP would object to all three. What’s in it for them, given their recent positions that re-opening the government and raising the debt ceiling are concessions to the Democrats.

    I really don’t think it would be tough to get a majority of Democrats on board with all three changes.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    The only way that proposal passes is if Democrats agree to scrap ACA.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Now just explain it in words of a single syllable to the mental patients that run the GOP.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    I really think we should just give up and agree to Romney’s entire economic agenda as Paul Ryan proposed last week.
    And, of course, eliminate Obamacare completely.

    Well…OK…I’m kidding.
    But let’s remember that’s where they started.
    Let’s see where they end, and how they try to spin it as a victory.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now just explain it in words of a single syllable to the mental patients that run the GOP.

    Multiple choice:
    a) God is great
    b) Paul is dead
    c) Guns are life
    d) So sue me
    e) Trust me on this

    I’m with “a)”

  6. Woody says:

    Heartily agree with all three. Logical, timely, understandable.

    And how fortunate for us that we have the Bizarro Founders running the House.

  7. Repeal annual budgeting in favor of a two-year cycle.

    Add one twist for this: make the deadline for this two year budget the congressional election day and if congress fails to pass the budget, they’re not elligible for reelection.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    I thought Paul was the Walrus???

  9. Grumpy Realist says:

    ….and two hard-boiled eggs, while you’re at it.

  10. john personna says:

    I don’t think any of these changes would fix this basic disrespect for governance.

    If someone in a position of responsibility can point the car towards the ditch now, they can do it under these or any other rules.

    And no, rolling back universal insurance by mandate should not be a free “sweetener” on more of the same.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    BTW…Kudos for the Odd Couple image…sheer comic genius.

  12. Jax says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Ohhhh, I like that one!

  13. john personna says:

    For the record, I think it would be smart to change “shutdown” so that it means “autopilot” with an automatic clean CR. And I agree that ending separate debt limit legislation is a smart move.

    But why for the love of God do we need to “charge” the Democrats for smart changes?

    Do the smart thing, Obama loses part of his successful legislation?

    Geez James, you have a little Tea in you after all.

  14. al-Ameda says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I thought Paul was the Walrus???

    A dead walrus? Nah, Paul was the eggman.

  15. C. Clavin says:


  16. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Mostly, I’m trying to come up with a semi-plausible deal in which those more important things get done. That would require the Dems give up something that’s significant to the Tea Party but, in this case, not really all that hard to swallow.

  17. Grumpy Realist says:

    @James Joyner: Unfortunately, you’re assuming a sense of reality on the other side, which we have seen no evidence for. As far as they’re concerned, jumping out of a plane with no parachute is a sensible action, because God Will Save Them.

  18. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    I like that word “foursquare.”

    I think you should be foursquare for a rational budget process, and call the zealots on that.

    It is actually wrong to try to buy them, but impossible anyway.

    They didn’t get to where they are with bargaining skills.

  19. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Can we tack on a provision (to the Grand Bargin) that the Tea Party be drowned in a bathtub and buried with Osama?

  20. An Interested Party says:

    I don’t think any of these changes would fix this basic disrespect for governance.

    This gets to the heart of the problem…it is hardly surprising to see members of a political party (a party that lately seems to stand for an almost total hatred of the federal government) treat their responsibilities as members of that federal government so shabbily….

  21. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “That would require the Dems give up something that’s significant to the Tea Party but, in this case, not really all that hard to swallow.”

    James, sorry, but giving up or postponing the individual mandate is very hard to swallow. Even ignoring:
    (a) the concept that Republicans should not be rewarded for threatening to blow up the economy or they will do it again the next chance they are able, and
    (b) if Obama agrees to postpone it once, he will sure as tomorrow’s sunrise be asked to do it again next year, and
    (c) what they are getting in removing the sequester is nowhere near as large a get as they are giving up,

    the simple fact is without an individual mandate, Obamacare will not work. With no individual mandate, people will not buy health insurance (other than catastrophic) until they are sick, and there will not be enough money in the pool to pay for it.

  22. Jc says:

    Why would the GOP want any of these proposals? They know they are likely to be a minority party in the coming years, they need these to stay on the books so they can continue to extract things they want without getting what they should get, which is nothing.

  23. Ron Beasley says:

    All good ideas James but while I respect you at some point you are going to have to recognize that the current Republican party is largely made up of insane anarchists, at least in the House. You can’t negotiate with people who don’t negotiate only demand. It would be unwise to give them anything.

  24. Snarky Bastard says:

    @James Joyner: Repealing or delaying the mandate and not replacing it with either late enrollment penalties or very tight open enrollment policies guts PPACA by inviting adverse selection death spirals.

    A mandate is critical to make community rating work.

  25. Tyrell says:

    These ridiculous, unrelated, pork barrel tack ons should not be allowed. Whatever happened to the process where budget bills originated and were hammered out in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee? That’s the way it used to be. The bill comes out, gets approved by the House with no problems, and then on to the Senate where they would make small changes, and then on to the president for approval. Hardly got a notice in the news. What is going on up there now? Go back to the process that worked for decades. The House and Senate leaders kept their party members in line. If anyone bucked the chain of command, they were put on the House or Senate restroom committee or the Ad Hoc Committee of Somilian Affairs.
    That’s why we need more business people in Congress. People who know how to get things done. And none of this telling the news media everything they are doing or leaving microphones turned on. The smoke filled worked. Get people like Buffett, Maxwell, Gates, Trump, and Welch in there.
    “I didn’t carry a brief case. I played it loose and fast” (“The Art of the Deal” Trump).

  26. Rob in CT says:

    As others have said, “delaying” the individual mandate is not a small thing. It’s a method of sabotauging the law. “It won’t work, and we’ll make sure it doesn’t!” is the plan.

  27. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: Well, no. The whole point of these proposals is to take the ability to hold the economy hostage away. Essentially, in the absence of a budget, we’d go on autopilot—as we did before the Antideficiency Act reinterpretation—and Congressional authorization to spend would automatically give authorization to borrow to meet the obligation.

    @Ron Beasley: But they’re negotiating now. There’s no choice but negotiate. The point of these reforms is to end the cycle of crisis.

    @Snarky Bastard: @Rob in CT: In theory, yes. In practice, however, the “mandate” is a teeny, tiny tax that’s way cheaper than paying for insurance even on the subsidized exchanges.