If there was just one word to describe the 1st session of the 113th Congress, it would be “stalemate.” After 10 months, just over 45 bills have been signed into law. That beats last year’s record as the least productive congressional session ever. Is it any wonder that congressional approval is at an all-time low? A recent CBS News poll found 85 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress does its job – the highest percentage ever recorded since CBS began asking the question in 1977. Just 9 percent approve, matching the all-time low recorded two years ago.
I was fortunate enough to be attending AMT’s Global Forecasting & Marketing Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, when our elected leaders took the country to the brink of default and back again. Sixteen days into the government shutdown and hours before the nation hit the debt limit, Congress reached a deal that effectively kicked the proverbial can down the road for a few months.
In this latest mishandling of critical fiscal issues, clearer heads and responsible leadership ultimately prevailed, but not without considerable cost to the American people and to the legislators themselves. The last-ditch agreement negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) passed the Senate by a wide 81-18 margin. In the House, where much of the debate took place within the Republican caucus, the measure was adopted by a 285-144 vote, with 87 GOP members voting “aye.” It was immediately signed into law by the President.
In a nutshell, the deal reopened and continued funding the government through Jan. 15, 2014, plus included back pay for federal workers furloughed during shutdown. The agreement also suspended the debt ceiling through Feb. 7, 2014. Democrats had hoped for an earlier funding deadline than January in order to attempt a repeal of sequester cuts sooner in the fiscal year. Republicans hoped to use the shutdown/debt ceiling fight as a vehicle to defund or severely limit the reach of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Does this latest deal set up another nasty showdown early next year? That’s one scenario legislators hope to avoid as 2014 elections become more of a consideration.
As part of the deal, a budget conference was established to reconcile the House and Senate budget resolutions approved earlier this year, and ideally find agreement on government funding levels to replace the sequester. When the conferees were named, the House and Senate both set a non-binding deadline for the conference to report its recommendations by December 13, about one month before the government funding bill expires on January 15, 2014. Hopefully that leaves enough time to deal with the immediate fiscal issues and begin the process of setting the country on a fiscally sustainable long-term path.
A recent editorial in the New York Times pointed to just how damaging government policy has been in regards to the economy. Especially if you are part of the manufacturing community, please take the time to make your voice heard. Contact your members of Congress and urge them to work with their colleagues across the aisle to come to a responsible budget resolution that significantly reduces entitlements, cuts wasteful and inefficient spending and includes responsible investment in R&D and education.