Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Washington stalemate? Sigh.

Good morning and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's place for discussion and perspective. I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial board, and I'll be your host today.

What's everyone talking about this morning? Politics, of course, but let's take a temporary break from the GOP presidential race to see how things are moving along on critical legislation in Washington.

They're not? OK, back to the primaries.

Unfortunately, the payroll tax/government shutdown tug of war is likely your story of the day. Less than two days remain until the federal government shuts down because the latest in a series of stopgap spending bills is about to expire. Most everyone in Congress wants to pass a new spending bill, just as most in Congress want to extend the payroll tax cut. But because this is Congress, no one wants to give the appearance of doing what the other side wants, even if it's kinda maybe what you want, too.

Specifically, here's what's at stake: The Senate Appropriations Committee has produced a sweeping $1.043 trillion spending package to fund Cabinet operations and war spending. Given that the agreement was the product of weeks of bipartisan work, the package has a decent chance of passing with few tweaks by Friday night to avoid an embarrassing (if that's still possible for lawmakers) Washington shutdown.

But because President Barack Obama and Democrats want Republicans to extend or expand a payroll tax cut before the current version expires at the end of the month, they have refused to let the spending package come up for a vote. Republicans, as you might guess, won't let a payroll tax cut vote happen until the spending package is voted on.

We think a payroll tax cut extension is a good idea, if it's paid for. We also like the concept of not shutting down the government. What's going to happen? Both will get passed. It might happen right before Friday night, or government might get shut down for a few hours or a day until lawmakers realize, again, how silly they've become, again. Everyone knows this eventuality, including Congress. Which is what makes this taffy pull that much more maddening.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who spent Wednesday watching members of the Senate insult each other in the name of legislating, searched and found the better word for it all: Moronic.

Politico's David Rogers offers even more details (if you dare) on the battle and how it fits into 2012.

A bigger legislative deal, perhaps, is a bipartisan plan introduced yesterday to overhaul Medicare. The plan was co-authored by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The plan will go nowhere this election year, but Wyden's participation surely will infuriate Democrats, who planned to spend 2012 informing voters how Republicans wanted to gut Medicare. Having a Democrat's name on the legislation takes that hammer out of the party's hands as the election approaches.

Closer to home

The O's editorial today says that the proposed Red Line commuter train from Charlotte to points north may sound too good to be true - but it brings good-enough possibilities that it should be vetted thoroughly by all involved.


DistrictSix said...

Don't help build a big ole wall, with your news articles and comments, then turn around and be surprised no one is crawling over it.