The end of one crisis, the start of another

The good news is, there won’t be a government shutdown this week. The bad news is, the next budget fight is set for mid-November, and that clash is likely to be considerably worse.

The agreement reached last night was over a spending bill that was itself a stopgap measure. This continuing resolution was never about funding the government for the next year; it’s about keeping the government’s lights on for the next six weeks.

To be sure, Congress could have worked on a full-year spending measure. Indeed, the blueprint was already in place — as a resolution to the scandalous debt-ceiling fiasco, Democrats and Republicans agreed to spending levels for the next fiscal year. A continuing resolution to cover the next year would have made perfect sense, and saved Washington a lot of heartache.

But Republicans had other ideas and pushed a wholly-unnecessary short-term measure, setting the stage for yet another fight six weeks from now. Why? Because as Stan Collender recently explained, GOP officials want a new opportunity to use a shutdown threat as leverage to make more demands.

The commonly assumed but unstated reason for a short-term CR is that the House GOP wants to have increased political leverage on budget and other issues by being able to hold yet another potential government shutdown over the heads of Congressional Democrats and the White House. This time it supposedly will be policy riders — changes in authorizations — rather than spending levels that will be the biggest points of contention. Multiple CRs will mean frequent opportunities for House Republicans to impose their preferences on non-budget issues and using appropriations to do it.

Suzy Khimm explained yesterday, “[T]he next round of budget negotiations will feature much larger stakes, much more consequential differences, and many more opportunities and excuses for mischief.” She also walked through some of the potential flashpoints, including the larger scope of the next round (members will be debating the budget, not just offsets for disaster aid), as well as GOP goals about policy riders.

The agreement struck in the Senate last night will, once approved by the House, keep the government funding through Nov. 18. Go ahead and start the shutdown clock again.