Don’t Bet on a Budget Compromise

This Congress is never going to get its act together.

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Editorial cartoon satirizing the government shutdown.

If anyone is expecting Santa to bring congressional negotiators the gift of compromise this Christmas to avoid more fiscal drama when the spending and debt limit extensions expire in January and February – don't. Jolly Old Claus long ago put our gang of little legislative rascals on the coal list.

The oft-cited maxim "past behavior predicts future behavior" will hold true. The 113th Congress' long-running pattern of high frequency, habitual behavior will yield no more than kicked cans full of short-term solutions and more wild outbursts from House stenographers.

Moreover, don't expect public opinion to change the status quo. Current polls indicate that a majority of Americans want to vote incumbents out in 2014, but this sentiment is the same as it was over the past few years. The public gets angry, Congress sets an expectation that next time will be different, the next time isn't and the cycle repeats.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Congress also fails to recognize the path of least resistance. The 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, aka Simpson-Bowles, produced a legitimate and viable proposal to reduce government debt long term. Had it been enacted, the country would be two years closer to fiscal health.

What can voters do to change the tide? They must recalibrate their expectations for an electoral backlash come November 2014. Only 15 percent of the congressional races will be competitive, and the other 85 percent will see strong incumbents with credit claiming, advertising and fundraising advantages trumping their primary challengers. 

If voters want to shift the tide in their favor, they must urge more reasonable moderate-politicians to run for Congress, and also get out and vote in next year's primaries. Otherwise the 114th Congress will be no better than the 113th.

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