I’ve spilled a lot of e-ink about the fiscal cliff, that looming set of expiring measures at the end of the year that will have a serious impact on fiscal policy, spending and taxes going forward. But there are quite a few policies that either expire or are urgently needed well before the end of the year. And election-year politics being what they are, those measures are getting bottled up.
President Barack Obama asked Congress to pass bills to keep student loan interest rates from doubling, prevent domestic abuse and fund the nation’s highway system.
But never underestimate Congress’s ability to fumble a can’t-miss play.
Now, the slate of issues that lawmakers thought would be a cinch are stuck in a legislative morass, fitting perfectly into Obama’s election-year argument that Congress is a band of incompetents who can’t even agree on curbing domestic violence or shielding college students from ballooning loan payments.
Differing versions of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the transportation funding bill have passed each house of Congress. But neither side has come up with a reconciliation for the differences in the bills, or even a process to get there. There’s currently a conference committee for the surface transportation bill, but nothing much has come of it. The VAWA reauthorization is mired in a technical fight over a “blue-slip” problem; Republicans say the Senate bill had a revenue-collection aspect, which violates the Constitutional provision over revenue-raising measures having to originate in the House.
A collection of student loan interest rate extension bills just failed in the Senate; lawmakers cannot decide on how to pay for it. A couple must-pass bills have made its way through the Congressional thicket: an extension of the Export-Import Bank, which the President signed yesterday, and an FDA user-fee bill, which just passed the House. But those bills had major industries behind them, and if you don’t have that, you just won’t get a lot of consensus in Congress. And even the FDA bill still has a way to go as the bills differ.
The bigger hurdle looks to be the appropriations measures for the next fiscal year. Current appropriations expire on September 30, before the election. House Republicans are pushing for a spending package that breaks last year’s debt limit deal by spending more on the military and less on overall operations. The White House has threatened to veto practically all the appropriations that the House has put on the floor. The smart money is that some stopgap spending bill will get the parties through the election, but there are major differences and the opportunity for hostage-taking on government funding still exists.
Gridlock wasn’t a huge problem earlier in the year, but now bills that will cause increases in student loan rates of up to $1,000 a year, highway funding worth hundreds of billions of dollars, domestic violence prevention, and even the smooth operations of the government are all at risk.
UPDATE: There was a bit of news today on the student loan interest rate front. CNN reported that John Boehner told his caucus that he didn’t expect a deal by July 1, the expiration date. Chuck Schumer was quick to exploit this, saying in a statement that “These overheard comments by Speaker Boehner confirm our suspicions that Republicans were never serious about wanting to stop rates from doubling on college students.” Boehner has now pushed back on this story, but only in a way confirming that he plans to blame Democrats for the rate increase rather than look for a solution.