Something serious is going on in Washington. Whether you noticed it or not, the House passed legislation last Wednesday that the Senate intends to actually act on this week and the White House has no intention of vetoing.
House Republicans approved legislation Wednesday, March 6, to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year. The legislation additionally creates more flexibility in spending allocation caused by $85 billion Sequester. The bill passed 267-151 mostly along party lines, yet generated three dozen votes by Democrats.
The bill heads to the Democratic-led Senate this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters he was "cautiously optimistic" that both sides could reach an agreement before Easter recess but indicated things could still fall apart, depending on the specifics of the GOP plan. If the Senate and House cannot work out their differences before the short-term budget expires on March 27, they risk a government shutdown.
The House bill would set agency spending largely at last year's levels minus the cuts required by sequestration. The $982 billion stopgap measure locks in post-sequestration spending levels but includes protections for defense and veterans programs, enabling them to adjust to the cuts brought on by sequestration.
Democrats criticized the bill for granting flexibility to the Pentagon to reallocate funds to higher-priority programs, while doing nothing to mitigate the impact sequestration would have on domestic programs. Yet congressional leaders remain hopeful that another showdown will be avoided, especially in the wake of a drawn-out battle and missed deadline on sequestration.
"We are optimistic that we’ll be able to pass a CR both through the House and the Senate at the sequester level and thereby not have a huge dispute over the continued operation of the government for the rest of the year," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last Tuesday.
Maybe, just maybe, common sense is partially returning to Washington. It just might be possible that there will be no last minute confrontational government shutdown scenario concerning funding through the end of the year.
While the White House continues to officially note it is "deeply concerned" about the House GOP bill, it has stopped short of issuing a veto threat. The White House has officially expressed its intention to work with Congress "to refine the legislation to address these concerns."
The White House official response to the House legislation came the day after the President took Republican Senators to dinner to discuss the budget. President Obama's new outreach appears intended to begin a new initiative towards a Grand Bargain. Ohio Republican Boehner told reporters this week's thaw was "a hopeful sign. I think something will come of it."
In recent days, some prominent Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, have expressed an openness to tax increases to help control annual deficits contributing to a national debt that has skyrocketed to $16.7 trillion.
In return, the White House has signalled a willingness to find savings in "entitlement" programs including Medicare for the elderly and disabled. Democrats have long positioned themselves as protectors of these social safety net programs. "We're not naive about the challenges that we still face," White House spokesman Carney told reporters.
There is something serious going on in Washington. They have just have figured out the Rolling Stones were right: "You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need."