The Real Costs of Debt Brinkmanship

Spending cut show down has actual, tangible consequences

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The summer-long fight over raising the debt ceiling -- which pretty much everyone said absolutely had to happen no matter what -- made Washington look like it was run by obnoxious children. But the current fad of debt brinkmanship has real, tangible consequences. Here are four of them.

Disaster Relief
Before Hurricane Irene made landfall, House Majority Leader demanded that any disaster relief that might be necessary be offset with spending cuts. On Wednesday, he walked that back a bit, saying, "I am not for taking any hostages here." Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to test that by offering a $6 billion relief package -- which would aid hurricane, wildfire, and tornado victims -- with no spending cuts. The New York Times' Robert Pear explains that Reid's bill "could force Republicans, who have been clamoring for spending cuts, into an awkward position: having to vote for or against the disaster assistance." Cantor called the bill "unprecedented."
Post Office
Earlier this month, House oversight committee chair Darrell Issa showed how much he wants a partisan fight over the U.S. Postal Service when he started a website with a countdown clock to the day the USPS will default. (Not everyone wants a brawl, though -- Sen. Scott Brown complained, "Are we going to fight about the Post Office, too?" The Hill's Bernie Becker reports.) Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe painted a bleak picture of the postal service's finances in a congressional hearing, saying he was operating with "a week's worth of cash," The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe reports. The USPS is considering cutting costs by ending mail delivery on Saturday, limiting service in rural areas, and laying off 120,000 workers. Issa backs allowing thousands of post offices to close, but union-backed Democrats would rather allow USPS to pay less in retirement funds than fire people.
Federal Aviation Administration
When Congress passed the 21st temporary extension of funding for the FAA -- the agency's last full funding authorization expired four years ago -- lawmakers swore there would be no 22nd. But The Hill's Keith Laing reports that another temporary extension is in the works after all, with the previous extension expiring next Friday. Democrats and Republicans are fighting over spending cuts and a Republican measure that would "undo rules to make it easier for transportation workers to unionize," Laing reports. The last fight over FAA funding cost the government millions because it couldn't collect airfare taxes; thousands of workers were furloughed.
Texas Wildfires
As wildfires sweep across 33,000 acres of Texas, it's worth noting that earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry cut the budget for volunteer fire departments from $30 million to $7 million, KVUE reports. And Associated Press's April Castro reports that Perry trimmed the Texas Forest Service Budget by a third, though the agency says that "it will spend whatever is necessary from state coffers to deal with the disaster and have the expenses accounted for later by state leaders." More politically damaging, National Review's Katrina Trinko observes, is that fact that in April, Perry asked the federal government for $52.5 million to help fight the fires even as he was cutting the state budget for such expenses. Wednesday, President Obama said he'd send federal aid to help Texas fight the fires.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.