A couple of lessons from a typical Capitol Hill story

The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House are in the midst of very contentious negotiations over funding the federal government for the rest of fiscal year 2011.  Right now, the feds are operating under a short-term Continuing Resolution which expires on April 8.  There is a decent chance that the House and Senate (and White House) will not be able to reach an agreement in time and non-essential federal government programs and employees will be shutdown come Friday.  If this happens, both sides will work very hard to blame the other and hope there are political points to be scored.

In the meantime, should such a partial shutdown take place, there will be practical ramifications for a lot of governmental institutions.  Including Congress.

According to a story in today’s Politico, one of the newspapers that focuses on action inside the Beltway, the Chairman of the House Committee on Administration is preparing guidance for Representatives about what they would have to do in the event that there is no agreement by April 8.

It is designed to give guidance on which employees are considered essential and which are not allowed to work during a shutdown, advise congressional staff about the status of their benefits during a shutdown and outline which House services will continue to operate.

Seems like a pretty prudent step to take.  You know, preparing for the worst case while hoping for the best.  And, operations of the House of Representatives is a significant part of what this committee does, so it makes sense that it would be putting together a contingency plan.  In fact, there is a reasonable argument that this committee would be abrogating its responsibility if it didn’t do so.

Proving one more time that in our nation’s capital no good deed goes unpunished, however, the Democrat reaction was fairly predictable, but still disappointing:

Democrats pounced on the news.

“The Republican leadership is preparing for a shutdown. Instead of coming to the table to work with Democrats and the White House, who have offered $33 billion in cuts, Speaker Boehner is taking his marching orders from the Tea Party, who want to ‘cut it or shut it,’” said a House Democratic leadership aide.

“Republicans are the only ones who are talking about a shutdown and it has never been more clear that Boehner has lost control of his conference.”

You’ve got to believe the Democrats in the Senate (as the majority party there) are making preparations of their own.  If they’re not, they’re being incredibly irresponsible since they know just as well as the Republicans in the House that this shutdown is a real possibility.  Yet, we don’t hear anything about it on that side of the Hill.  And there are no comments from Senate Republican leadership aides questioning why the Democrat leadership has dropped the ball.

This proves two things: 1) Democrats are much better at defining the parameters of the debate with a willingness to demagogue anything, and 2) Republicans aren’t very good at playing the game on those terms.

UPDATE:  The Washington Post has a story that Obama Administration officials are beginning to do exactly what the House Republicans are doing…taking prudent steps to prepare in the event that an agreement isn’t reached.  Nobody “pounced on this news.”

With the clock ticking towards Friday’s federal budget deadline and President Obama hosting congressional leaders for budget talks at the White House on Tuesday, top administration officials have instructed agency officials to begin sharing details of shutdown contingency plans with top managers. This marks the next step toward both curtailing government operations if a budget impasse occurs and informing federal workers whether they are considered “essential” personnel who would stay on the job despite a shutdown.

Though Obama and congressional leaders remain committed to avoiding a shutdown, “given the realities of the calendar, good management requires that we continue contingency planning for an orderly shutdown should the negotiations not be completed by” Friday at midnight, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients said in a memo.

Kudos to the Obama Administration for being responsible in their preparations in the event that things don’t get worked out by Friday.



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