Congress setting a low bar in budget negotiations

Chris Moody
Yahoo NewsOctober 24, 2013
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., walk to a news conference after voting on a measure to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. The bill moves next to the Republican-controlled House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Formal budget negotiations are underway for the first time since 2009, and lawmakers on both sides are taking great pains to keep expectations very, very low.

“There is not going to be a grand bargain,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is not part of the negotiations but is an important player to be sure, told KNPR, a radio station in Nevada, on Thursday.

The radio interviewer asked the Senate’s top Democrat if he would be open to reforming parts of Medicare and Social Security, which are the primary drivers of the federal debt, as part of a broader budget resolution. President Barack Obama has proposed small changes to those popular programs that would help reduce costs in the long-term, which has bipartisan support. But for Reid, this won’t be the time to consider tweaking those programs.

“You keep talking about Medicare and Social Security. Get something else in your brain. Stop talking about that. That is not going to happen this time," Reid said. Instead, Budget Committee chairs Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin should work toward gutting sequestration, he said.

“I hope that we can do some stuff to get rid of sequestration and go on to do some sensible budgets,” he said. “I hope there would be a grand bargain, but I don’t see that happening.”

Although Republicans seem more hopeful than Reid that something can be done on entitlements, there is also little talk on the right of the sort of “grand bargain”—a bipartisan deal that would combine entitlement reforms, a tax overhaul and perhaps even some tax increases—that was considered in 2011.

Earlier this month, Ryan outlined a series of proposals that he characterized as a “down payment” on the federal debt. Nothing “grand” about that. But it’s something.

But really, with partisan polarization at such high levels these days, can you blame them for their pessimism?

The good news, however — and yes this is good news! — is that politicians don’t often tell the full truth. This round of lowered expectations could be the exception to the rule, but it is quite possible that there really is something in the works behind the scenes that Republicans and Democrats both think can pass. They don’t want to overstate their chances early on. It might not be a "grand bargain," but these days, an "anything bargain" will do.