Washington has kept the federal government funded, but this week's stalemate was just one battle in a long spending war
Five days before the new fiscal year began, Congress and the White House fought the last exhausting battle of the 2011 budget.
That's right. The new Republican-led House fought the Democratic Senate and Obama White House until the 360th day of the 2011 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1 of 2010. Call it the 12 months' war -- a mere skirmish in advance of the battle sure to break out over proposals due in November from the bipartisan select committee on deficit reduction, the so-called super committee.
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This battle, which again made Congress appear incapable of dealing with the simplest tasks of government, also foreshadows confrontations over spending priorities in the 2012 budget. Congress and the White House have agreed on an overall discretionary spending number for 2012 and a rough split between domestic and defense allocations. But the fine-grain decisions about how much to spend on what remain unresolved, and for a Congress seemingly willing to haggle over the smallest spending item (disaster aid being the newest example), a tug-of-war of some duration appears certain. If the super committee produces $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, that will make this week's budget hair-pull look wimpy.
In the end, the terrain was the same -- exactly the same -- as the three sides fought over in the spring, when the nation inched within hours of a government shutdown. House Republicans won budget cuts in that conflict that they were adamant to protect now. In fact, the entire tussle over offsetting $1.5 billion out of $3.65 billion in proposed disaster assistance had nothing to do with any durable principle and everything to do with Republicans not adding a cent to the budget they'd negotiated in May. Those hard-won gains have gained an almost mythological importance to House Republicans and the tea party-inspired freshmen.