John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Good Enough for Government Work: The Ryan-Murray Budget Deal

Posted on December 10, 2013

Budget deals are hard.

My First Budget Showdown

I learned to love coffee during my first budget showdown.

I didn’t exactly do budget issues when I worked for Bob Michel during the 1990 debacle.  I was a junior staff member who did things like answer the phones, do basic research, and basically learn the tricks of the legislative trade.

I had only been on the Hill for a year, but as a loyal staff member, I spent a lot of late days and nights at the office, doing all I could to help my team.

For those who don’t remember, George H.W. Bush had promised the country that he would never, ever raise taxes, a promise that the Democrats took as a personal challenge to get him to break.

Which he did.  We tried to sell it in the Leader’s Office, but the Whip, Newt Gingrich, did everything he could to scotch the deal.  Republicans were in the Minority back then, and the Whip’s job was rarely that important.  But Newt’s insurgency brought down the initial budget agreement, and the Democrats promptly passed another, worse version that had more tax increases, which the President promptly signed.

It wasn’t very pretty, but it taught some valuable lessons:

  1. First, don’t make promises you can’t keep.

  2. Second, the second deal always seems worse for the Republicans.

  3. Third, divided you fall.

  4. Fourth, coffee tastes good.

Budget crises are an essential part of the Congressional process.

Thanks to cable news, every time we have the possibility of a budget shutdown, the world seems to be on the precipice of disaster.  But the world never seems to end.

We closed the government for weeks in the 1995/1996  showdown, but both sides felt like they got something out of it.  Republicans got welfare reform and a balanced budget, while the President got himself reelected.

Republicans controlled everything during the bulk of the Bush years, but that didn't mean there wasn't any drama.  I remember one time when Senate leaders concluded a secret deal to halve the tax cut demanded by the President and House Republicans.  That caused a lot of hard feelings.  It wasn't very pretty, but budget deals rarely are.

The Ryan-Murray Budget Deal

With all of that being said, the Ryan-Murray deal, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, has much to be humble about.

And predictably, the hard right is complaining that it doesn't go far enough.

Of course, they always do that.

The deal makes incremental progress on the budget deficit by exchanging some mandatory reductions for some discretionary spending cuts.  The discretionary cuts have been holding up negotiations on Appropriations allocations, making it hard for the bulk of the Federal government to make any kind of planning for the future and wasting a bunch of taxpayer money in the process.

The deal will likely have a decent impact on job creation, as a good portion of the defense cuts have been avoided promised in the sequester.

For Paul Ryan, this is a pretty big victory, as long as he can pass it.   Interestingly, the announcement of a budget agreement didn't include Boehner or McConnell or Reid or Pelosi.  It was the Paul Ryan and Patty Murray show, and for these committee leaders, getting top billing is both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing for Ryan is that he has a solid accomplishment on his resume.   It is one thing to pass a budget through your committee or on the House floor.  It’s quite another thing to get a bipartisan budget to the President’s desk and get it signed.

The curse, of course, is that the hard right will never trust him again.

The naysayers will always say nay.  That is what they do.

But a bipartisan deal will never make everybody happy.  In fact, it usually doesn't make anybody happy.

For Republicans, if they can pass this modest deal, without any tax increases, they will achieve a significant victory, mostly by allowing the government to function without the fear of any government shutdown.

When the government shuts down, Republican approval ratings go down, down, down.  When the government reopens and the Republican fade from the spotlight, their approval ratings go back up and the focus goes back to the President, which usually leads to him tumbling in the polls.

This isn't the greatest budget deal ever reached in the history of the Republic.  But it is good enough for government work, so if I were a member, I would vote for it.