The origins of a mess

THE ORIGINS OF A MESS…. One of the more common refrains I’ve seen today about the budget fight has to do with what happened last year, not this year. Given the frequency with which it’s come up, let’s take a moment to consider the observation.

As most hopefully realize, the current budget fight has to do with the current fiscal year. Ordinarily, the funding would have been worked out months ago, and DC would just now be gearing up for an argument about next year’s funding (see Ryan, Paul). But the 111th Congress didn’t get its work done, and so it falls to the 112th, which is not exactly doing a bang-up job getting its work done, either.

Given this, the argument that I’m seeing today is that Democrats are somehow to blame for tomorrow night’s shutdown because the Democratic Congress didn’t complete a budget last year. Indeed, about a week ago, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said Dems bear “some responsibility” for the mess because his party didn’t get the job done.

ABC’s Jake Tapper has been emphasizing the same point:

It is remarkable to hear Dems slam GOPers for not passing last year’s budget when Dems ruled the roost…. My point was to hear Dems talk about the failure to do the responsible thing and pass a budget is undermined by 2010 inactions

Several conservatives have made the same argument to me on Twitter this afternoon, and I’ve received a handful of emails echoing this point.

So, is this true? Did Dems get us into this mess? There’s something to this — though I think Jake may be blurring the line between a budget resolution and appropriations bills — but still it’s worth considering in more detail, because given the larger context, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

First, due almost entirely to pre-election anxiety and intra-party divisions, congressional Dems ducked a fight over spending. Democrats may have thought delaying the debate would help their election odds, and one shellacking later, we can safely say that strategy didn’t go well.

Second, let’s not forget the events of mid-December too quickly, either. As congressional watchers will tell you, it’s not too unusual for appropriations fights to be delayed until late in the year, and after midterms, the then-Dem majority had an omnibus on track to fund the government through September. So what happened? Nine Senate Republicans who said they’d support the spending measure went back on their word, under orders from Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership, who wanted to see the fight in 2011. If that omnibus had passed in December when it was supposed to, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now, either.

And third, I’m not entirely sure how much this matters. Dems made a series of mistakes last year — Dicks and Tapper aren’t wrong about this — but they also lost their House majority in the midterms. That was six months ago.

Right now, Dems have made all kinds of concessions and presented Republicans with a pretty sweet budget deal. Indeed, the White House has endorsed spending cuts in excess of what House GOP leaders even requested in February.

And yet, Republicans don’t want to take the deal, even if it shuts down the government. How we got to this point is interesting as a matter of history and procedure, but we’re still standing at the edge of a cliff, and Speaker Boehner and his caucus refuse to help pull us back.