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What We Learned from the Omnibus Spending Deal

Yuval Rosenberg

A red traffic light stands in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington September 30, 2013, approximately one hour before the U.S. federal government partially shut down after lawmakers failed to compromise on an emergency spending bill. 

Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes at The Washington Posts’ Monkey Cage that the deeper lesson from the $1.3 trillion spending bill is a familiar one: “It’s really, really hard to make deals in a politically polarized era. The parties play reasonably well side by side when they’re giving out money. But reaching agreement on issues that splinter Republicans and divide the parties proves much harder.”

In short, our politics are still broken.

A few other takeaways from Binder:

“Legislating in the Dark” was the strategy, and it worked. GOP leaders gave lawmakers just hours to review the massive bill in order to limit the opportunity for their partisan base to notice — and stoke outrage over — some details, such as the funding it provides for “innumerable Democratic priorities” or how it “blocks the Trump administration from doing such things as expanding detention of immigrants, defunding sanctuary cities, and ending federal funding for the arts.”

Unified control of Congress didn’t smooth the budget process. It’s been two decades since Congress last passed all its required appropriations measures on time. GOP control of Congress and the White House failed to break that streak. “Partisan polarization — coupled with internal Republican fissures — undermines Congress’s power of the purse, even in good economic times,” Binder writes.

Don’t expect any more major deals this year. This was the last must-pass bill expected this year, with the exception of another government funding bill that will be needed in the fall, just before the November midterms. In other words, election season just started and big bipartisan compromises on outstanding issues aren’t likely to happen. “By design or plan, party leaders defaulted into stalemate,” Binder writes. “Republicans were unsure what the president would support and unwilling to fracture their party, putting major policy deals out of reach.”

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