Fun Month

When Congress scurried off for its August Recess, it was assumed it would not reconvene until a week from now, at which point it would have nine official working days before the end of the fiscal year, and then maybe eight more before the scheduled breaching of the debt limit in mid-October. Best we know, serious fiscal negotiations haven’t begun; indeed, the House Republicans don’t seem to have settled on a negotiating position, much less reached agreement with Senate Republicans. Since John Boehner’s last public utterances involved using the debt limit vote as leverage for demanding a year’s delay in implementation of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, while the president (a) has repeatedly rejected the very idea of negotiating over the debt limit, and (b) is very unlikely to negotiate over Obamacare, there’s a ways to go, even if it is assumed a short-term continuing resolution keeping the federal government operating into October can be secured.

Now the schedule must accommodate a use-of-force resolution regarding Syria, with hearings beginning in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and all sorts of alarmist rhetoric being thrown around in every direction (most notably Secretary of State Kerry’s unfortunate use of the term “Munich Moment” in a conference call with House Democrats).

As Sam Knight warned here at PA when Obama first announced he’d seek congressional authorization for a military strike against Assad, there is no way to entirely separate the various issues facing Congress in the abbreviated time available to them in this session. You can be sure that congressional Republicans, and probably congressional Democrats as well, will be pressing the White House for concessions and assurances on fiscal issues in exchange for votes on Syria. Much of this horse-trading will be in private because of its unseemly nature, though Republicans may publicly link support for a Syria strike to more money for the Pentagon. And it will be difficult for the White House to refuse to negotiate on the debt limit and on Syria. With at best tepid public support for direct U.S. intervention in Syria, and with the administration struggling to rebut suggestions from critics left and right that we’re going to launch a risky military action because the president screwed up by using the term “red line” for the deployment of chemical weapons by Syria, Obama is not in the strongest position to make or reject demands.

September should be a fun month for those who like their politics chaotic.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.