Chuck Schumer just escalated the simmering fight over the FY2012 budget in remarks on the Senate floor.
Schumer praised the FAA and surface transportation extension sent over from the House, saying that the brinksmanship over the debt limit “has caused a change in behavior. It has brought us together.” And he lauded the spirit of cooperation that has been an outgrowth. This isn’t really true, it was the Democrats in the Senate refusing to accede to the extremist wishes of John Mica, and the public outcry that occasioned it, that led to the change in behavior on those bills, which is exactly the opposition of a spirit of cooperation.
But then, Schumer turned to the FY2012 debate.
That’s why it was head-scratching earlier this week to hear a new rumor in the Capitol that the House Republican leadership might consider seeking to reopen the debt ceiling fight by disregarding the agreed-upon spending level for FY2012.
As you know, Mr. President, the deal included a top-line budget number of $1.043 trillion for the fiscal year that begins on October 1. This was a significant cut of $7 billion from the FY11 level.
This agreement was ratified by all those who voted for the final debt ceiling agreement. It was hailed as one of the better aspects of the overall debt ceiling deal because it would mean a lesser likelihood of another budget fight on September 30.
However, since this number was agreed to, some extreme Republicans have started looking to cause trouble. They have tried to say the $7 billion in cuts represented by the $1.043 trillion dollar figure should be considered a “floor, not a ceiling.”
This would be a violation not just of the spirit of the debt limit deal, but the letter of that deal.
The public largely is unaware of this latest potential budget fight, which would be the third this year. Schumer is trying to raise attention, believing that House Republicans were battered by their intransigence over the debt limit deal. In truth, all boats fell as a result of the deal. But Republicans did do harm to their reputations. And Schumer wants to paint this latest maneuver, which so far is mainly a rumor, as welching on an agreed-to deal.
Schumer also added in the looming fight over disaster relief funding, which is poised to get through the Senate on a bipartisan basis:
We already will likely need to take time next week to resolve what level of FEMA funding we should appropriate for FY2012. Early indications are that House Republicans may want to shortchange the level of funding FEMA says it needs for next year.
I can’t imagine why House Republicans would play games with disaster relief. But if they want to debate that, they should not at the same time be re-opening a budget fight that is already resolved and that nearly caused a default the first around.
We have enough debates on the docket without reopening the ones we’ve already settled.
Schumer is basically laying down a marker, and getting out in front of whatever blame game could result if Republicans try to use the funding level for FY2012 as a suggested figure that they could go below.
The fact that Schumer took this to the floor means that he obviously sees political opportunity here, but also that this is not a fanciful notion. We really could have another government shutdown threat on our hands.