Much of the political world's attention has focused on the presidential campaign trail of late, and for good reason. Congress takes August off; President Obama has been on vacation; and his would-be successors have put on quite a show.
But as August nears its end, the White House remains quite cognizant of the challenges facing federal policymakers. Just yesterday, the president published a message
on Twitter, explaining, "Amidst global volatility, Congress should protect the momentum of our growing economy (not kill it)." Obama added that the United States "must avoid" a government shutdown and austerity measures.
The message didn't come out of the blue. Current funding for the federal government expires at the end of September, and though Republican leaders intended to make progress with talks over their summer break, there's no indication that officials are any closer to a solution than they were in July. On the contrary, as was the case in 2013, some far-right members seem eager
for a fight that would result in a shutdown.
And then, of course, there's the debt ceiling. On the one hand, we received some good news on this front from the Congressional Budget Office this week. The Washington Post reported
Congressional leaders may have more time to work out a deal this fall to increase the federal borrowing limit, after new projections from Congress' scorekeeper showed tax revenues have been greater than expected this year. [...] In July, the Treasury Department estimated the government would hit its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit at the end of October. CBO, however, now projects the debt ceiling will not need to be increased until mid-November or early December, while noting there is a level of uncertainty when determining the exact date.
On the other hand, the delayed deadline won't necessarily help. The Huffington Post reported
[The debt-ceiling] deadline is nearing. And the mixture of an ongoing presidential campaign – which encourages lawmakers to play to their base -- and the itching for more spending cuts from conservative groups suggests it won't pass without drama. [...] Asked if he expected debt-ceiling fireworks, longtime GOP consultant Craig Shirley replied: "Without a doubt."
In fairness, it's important to note that GOP leaders want no part of this -- House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell haven't expressed any interest whatsoever in a replay of the 2011 hostage fight in which Republicans threatened to crash the economy on purpose unless President Obama met the GOP's demands.
But as we've seen many times, party leaders often feel as if they have no choice but to follow. And in this case, amid economic uncertainty and market volatility, far-right Republicans see conditions that give them a twisted sense of leverage.
The broader timing doesn't help, either. The race for the GOP presidential nomination will be pretty intense by the time December rolls around, and it's likely we'll see most, if not all, of the Republican field pushing the party to be as radical as possible -- each candidate will try to prove to right-wing activists that they're "tougher" than their rivals.
Buckle your seatbelt.