Can Congress get its act together?

by Jim Manley, QGA Public Affairs

For anyone who’s had it with gridlock and partisanship in Washington, and more importantly the impact the political bickering has had on the fragile economic recovery, have I got a deal for you. As we look forward to the fall, the biggest threat to the economy over the next few months isn’t consumer confidence, the state of the housing market or a lousy bond market, it’s Congress. Simply put, there are two upcoming fights over basic spending priorities and raising the debt limit that could be a make or break moment for this country.

The House and Senate reconvened on Sept. 9 and were in session just eight days before the fiscal year ended on Sept 30.

Given that the two parties are at least $90 dollars a part, it is all but impossible to see how an agreement to keep the government open for the budget year that started Oct. 1 can be reached in two weeks. After some posturing, especially by presidential hopefuls like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, I expect a modicum of common sense will prevail and Congress will pass a so-called continuing resolution that will put government spending on auto pilot for a couple of months.

Unfortunately, however, the controls on the autopilot have Congress in a downward spiral headed directly toward the second big threat to the economy: debt limit brinkmanship like we saw in summer 2011. (We all know how well that worked out.) Stock markets and investors worldwide got spooked, consumer confidence took a hit and typical businesses had to think twice about whether the time was right to invest in new products and employees.

Lawmakers need to raise the debt limit sometime in October or at the very latest by mid-November.

No one knows how all of this will play out, though both sides appear to be getting ready for a major battle. The President has said repeatedly that unlike 2011, he will not negotiate again over increasing the debt limit. Yet, Republicans continue to demand deep cuts in spending before agreeing to raise the debt limit.

The good news is that so far neither the stock market, consumers nor investors are paying much attention to this. What happens in the fall, however, might be different. Because Congress could not get its act together the last time around, the Congressional Budget Office said the ham handed spending cuts contained in the sequester cost the economy roughly 1.5 percent in economic growth and as many as 750,000 jobs. If Congress keeps this up, the economy could soon suffer real damage.

Author

Jim Manley is a team member at QGA Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. His political chops include six years as a senior communications advisor and spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and nearly 12 years as press secretary for Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions. Prior to that, Manley worked in the press office of then-Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine. Reach him at jimpmanley@gqa.com

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