Last night's House and Senate votes have managed to avert a government shutdown, but the picture still isn't clear about what transpired. Here are my 4 questions on the budget deal.
The House and Senate both passed HR 1363, as amended by the Senate. That bill is also known as the "bridge" deal, has only a few cuts (~$2Billion), and continues funding government operations for about a week. We know what was in the bridge deal, but we don't yet know what was negotiators agreed to in the larger bill to be passed later this week. Expect enormous scrutiny as soon as the bigger bill becomes public, and for ideological strife at the (too big/too small) cuts.
So the first question is What legislative provisions did negotiators agree to? Everyone is wondering about both policy riders and spending cuts, and we'll have to wait until the big bill is released in the coming days in order to see.
It's been widely reported that contents of the bill weren't the only things negotiated on. If Majority Leader Reid promised to hold Senate votes on, say, EPA regulations, or Planned Parenthood, that's part of the deal that the public should know about. So my second question is What else did negiators agree to?. Reid could promise to schedule votes on Republican priorities, Boehner to support an administration policy, and Obama could have promised anything. Just because we'll know what's in the bills doesn't mean we know what was agreed upon. We should demand to know the complete terms of the agreement, and not accept just the terms presented to us as mutual victories. And if our leaders are unwilling to disclose what they've agreed to, then we should certainly know that too.
Third question: Were e-government initiatives affected? We've been advocating for the websites like USASpending, Data.gov, and the IT Dashboard to continue to exist, since they would have been drastically cut in the first CR (before the Senate Amendment) reinstated at least half of the funding for the e-government fund, which was encouraging. But we don't know yet what was agreed to. The e-government fund was untouched in last night's temporary "bridge", but we'll have to wait and see what's in the bigger bill later this week to see if we've really saved the data.
And my final question: Can't this be done better? This entire negotiation process has been farcically secretive, with OMB gag orders, and disclosure by press conference and planned and unplanned leaks. Both sides went from accusing each other of dishonest manipulation at one moment, to standing proudly together to proudly validate each other's work. And we still don't know what they've agreed to. We discussed this yesterday on the blog too, but last night's burst of productivity did nothing to calm my skepticism about the way this has been handled. House and Senate members basically turned matters entirely over to party leaders, who negotiated in secret with the President, and have yet to disclose what they've agreed to. If no one demands better, this is what we're going to continue to get. On the 2012 budget, and on the debt ceiling.