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Los Angeles Daily News - Congress Averts Crisis, but Another Looms in Months

News Article

Location: Los Angeles, CA

By Rebecca Kimitch

One crisis averted. Another in the works.

While Congress managed to avoid its latest manufactured crisis by approving a plan Wednesday night to raise the debt limit and end the government shutdown, that plan puts into place the pieces for another political showdown in just a few months.

The legislation only funds the government through Jan. 15. And if that deadline weren't threatening enough, it only raises the debt ceiling through Feb. 7.

Until then, a group of senators and representatives will be charged with doing in three months what Congress has failed to do over the past two years: find long-term budget solutions palatable to Democrats and Republicans.

Many inside and outside the Beltway don't have much faith in this budget conference committee.

"It's not clear how the next three months are going to accomplish anything that the previous three months, or for that matter the previous three years, have not," said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

"Only in Washington would the decision to set up a committee to negotiate an agreement on something that can't be agreed to be considered a victory."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has his own doubts.

"It's certainly possible, it's certainly desirable, but it's a heavy lift. The parties are quite far apart and it would mean bridging those considerable differences and doing so in a limited time," he said.

The budget conference committee bears a striking resemblance to the so-called supercommittee formed to produce bipartisan budget solutions after the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, said Andrew Busch, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

That supercommittee ultimately failed and political conditions for reaching a compromise haven't improved since, Busch said. They might actually be worse, he said, with primary elections beginning in March.

"The biggest threat to members of Congress is somebody being able to claim they are not sticking with the party program enough. The threat of a primary challenge almost always has the effect of causing them to dig in, rather than compromise," Busch said.

Relief from the cycle of budgeting deadline to deadline, impasse to impasse may not come until the presidential race, he said.

"The fundamental problem is that there is a huge difference in convictions, what government should do, the role it should play," Busch said.

As before, during the forthcoming negotiations Republicans will likely ask for cuts to spending on health care reform and entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, while Democrats will seek to raise taxes and undo some of the cuts made under the budget sequestration that began earlier this year.

Some Congress watchers are not as pessimistic about the potential for a budget compromise in the coming months.

While the tax and health care reform issues will be sticky, Democratic lawmakers may not be as afraid to make "minor or medium" reforms to Social Security and Medicare as traditionally thought, according to Frederick Lynch, associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and an expert on entitlement reform.

"You would think that seniors would be up in arms about even the mention of Medicare and Social Security, but they are not," Lynch said. "You may be surprised that certain senators not up for re-election might be up for messing with Social Security and Medicare."

And once lawmakers digest the political ramifications of this month's impasse, they might be more willing to compromise, said USC associate professor of politics Christian Grose.

"Having had the government shutdown and negative blowback, that could help something get passed," Grose said.

Whether the conference committee is successful at producing a budget compromise depends on who is on it, Grose said.

And Schiff said even if the committee doesn't find big budget solutions, it could negotiate a way to fund the government through the next election.

Still, Schnur has his doubts.

"It's impossible to envision a scenario that wouldn't lead us right back to this point early next year," he said.

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