Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on "Face the Nation" yesterday and made clear that he's confused about the federal budget process. Noting that the House and Senate have passed competing spending measures intended to keep the government's lights on, the Republican senator asked, "Why don't we have a conference committee on this?"
It fell to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to patiently try to explain the details Rand Paul must have missed: "We've been trying for more than six months to get Republicans to approve a conference committee on the budget."
I mention this exchange because I imagine there are quite a few Americans wondering how in the world we ended up, once again, with the prospect of an imminent government shutdown. It's worth taking a moment to remember that this crisis isn't an accident -- congressional Republicans created it on purpose several months ago.
In the early spring, both the House and Senate approved competing budget resolutions, and under the American system of government, both sides were supposed to go to a conference committee to hash out the differences. This year, Republicans refused. Consider this Washington Post piece from early May, which is all the more amazing nearly five months later.
[The shrinking deficit] might seem like good news, but it is unraveling Republican plans to force a budget deal before Congress takes its August break. Instead, the fiscal fight appears certain to bleed into the fall, when policymakers will face another multi-pronged crisis that pairs the need for a higher debt limit and the fresh risk of default with the threat of a full-scale government shutdown, which is also looming Oct. 1.In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, because Democrats have no reason to consider the kind of far-reaching changes to Medicare and the U.S. tax code that Republicans see as fundamental building blocks of a deal.
This is critically important to understanding what's happening on Capitol Hill right now. If the House and Senate had gone to a conference committee back in the spring to work out their budget differences, Republicans would have been expected to compromise to reach a broader agreement -- but Republicans don't want to compromise.
So they decided to abandon the budget process they themselves had asked for so they could do precisely what they're doing now -- use extortion instead of compromise to try to get what they want.
The government may shut down in 15 hours, but it's not an accident. Indeed, it could have been easily avoided if Congress had just done what Congresses are supposed to do when the House and Senate disagree on the budget. But Republicans insisted on this confrontation, hoping that if they just threatened enough harm, maybe Democrats would put aside the election results and meet some or all of the GOP's demands.
There is a process already in place that's intended to prevent disasters like these. House Republicans deliberately rejected it because they wanted a crisis, assuming it would give them "leverage" so they wouldn't have to compromise at all.
I imagine there are quite a few Americans waking up this morning thinking, "Wait, the government is about to shut down?" What they don't appreciate is the fact that GOP lawmakers always intended for this to happen, and set this plan in motion months ago.