Inching closer to a seemingly inevitable shutdown

INCHING CLOSER TO A SEEMINGLY INEVITABLE SHUTDOWN…. As expected, Democrats offered Republicans an additional $20 billion in budget cuts for this fiscal year, bringing the Democratic position in line exactly with the original request made by the GOP leadership. And as expected, Republicans promptly said it wasn’t good enough.

With a shutdown deadline just 10 days away, no one at any level, in any chamber, in either party is even remotely optimistic. On the contrary, a shutdown seems practically inevitable.

The key here, oddly enough, isn’t just the size of the cuts, though that’s part of it. The real problem, as of yesterday, was where the cuts could come from.

Another point of contention is a demand, as one Democrat put it, “to broaden the frame” of cuts. Rather than taking the cuts entirely from the discretionary budget, Democrats are eager to include items from the much larger portion of the budget that finances mandatory programs, otherwise known as entitlements.

For example, Obama proposed in his most recent budget request reducing commodity payments to wealthy farmers for a savings of $2.5 billion over the next decade (though the proposal would save nothing this year). The budget also proposes to eliminate Pell college grants for summer school, for a savings of $60 million this year. And it offers a host of provisions intended to streamline the major government health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, in part by expanding federal program integrity authority.

Republicans are resisting this approach.

And that’s why this process isn’t going well.

To briefly recap, the federal government is a massive document, broken up into a variety of areas. We devote enormous resources to Defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, interest on the debt, etc. Congressional Republicans are insisting not only on deep, recovery-risking cuts, but are also demanding that the cuts come exclusively from a sliver of the budget known as “non-defense discretionary domestic spending.”

And what does “non-defense discretionary domestic spending” include? Pretty much “everything else.” It’s the part of the budget that pays for everything from education to environmental protections, law enforcement to the Centers for Disease Control, transportation to food safety.

At this point in the debate, Democrats are effectively arguing, “If cuts are the name of the game, fine, let’s look at the whole budget.” To which Republicans respond, “Absolutely not. We want deep cuts, but only from a small portion of the budget. And if you disagree, we’ll shut down the government.”

Indeed, Brian Beutler arguably published the most important paragraph of the day yesterday.

Asked about the offer the White House has floated, a top Republican aide says, “This debate has always been about discretionary spending — not autopilot ‘mandatory’ spending or tax hikes.”

It’s hard to overstate how foolish this is. The debate has “always been about discretionary spending”? Since when? I thought Republicans believed the debate was about cutting spending and reducing a deficit that the GOP believes threatens the fabric of civilization. Who decided that the debate has to be about slashing education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and homeland security?

Not that such a reminder was necessary, but this should remove all doubt as to the Republicans’ lack of seriousness about the budget process. They’re allegedly desperate to make a huge dent in the deficit, but they’re only willing to look at a sliver of the budget, and only willing to make cuts to programs that actually help America’s middle class and working families.

This isn’t the position of a party committed to deficit reduction, so can the political world stop pretending otherwise?