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The Speaker, the Budget and the Debt Ceiling

Monday, October 5, 2015  
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The Speaker, the Budget and the Debt Ceiling

By: Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations



Yogi Berra once said, “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”  The past few weeks in Washington could not be summed up any better.


First, the Speaker of the House quit.  Leaving the Congress at the end of October, Speaker John Boehner propelled a struggle for House control among Republicans thereby delaying any tough legislative decisions until after October.  The timing of the announcement is problematic because the federal government’s budget ended at the end of September and the budget shenanigans had been brewing for over a month. With hours left before a government shutdown, the Congress passed a bill funding the government until December 11.

In what has become a Washington tradition, the Congress lurches toward keeping the government functioning as its fiscal year ends.  Interestingly, the tensions on funding the government are interparty as well as partisan. Basically, threatening to shut down all of government is the vehicle of choice these days to get your way.


That is some high stakes poker.  Consider this: Over $140 Million in unprocessed small business loans, a 40% drop in spending on DOD small business contracts, and millions of Americans unsure if their benefits will be available. During 2013, 10,000 work stops were issued. National parks were shuttered, sending the tourism industry in a tailspin. Small businesses all over the country were affected from the food truck that serves federal employees at lunch to companies with millions of dollars in federal contracts. 


But there is yet another deadline looming that gives the Congress another opportunity to disrupt government funding – the debt ceiling which will need to be raised sometime in November according to Secretary of the Treasury Lew.  Rather than shutting down the government by denying funding, this mechanism allows the Congress to put the government into default.  Enter eye rolls – not that again.


Lest you conclude this article is advocating for bigger government spending, it is really advocating for certainty.  The Congress put into place a ten-year budget plan that it should follow.  In addition, Congress has a mechanism for deciding policy –that is to vote.  Whether it is a vote on Planned Parenthood funding or funding Obamacare, the House operates on majority rules.  Rather than holding the entire government funding hostage, just hold votes.  In the House, unlike the Senate, Members cannot filibuster.  Consideration of legislation is decided by the House Rules Committee—not individual Members.  Unless the party in charge of the House has a supermajority, reality dictates that you have to find votes from the other party. 


Those fundamentals are so simple, but in today’s Congress so difficult to execute—especially if cooperation and collaboration are not in your playbook.  As long as the voters send their Members of Congress to stand on principle rather than finding the art of the possible, Washington will continue to operate this way.  As for government funding and debt ceiling –well we’ll see you in November. As Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t over til it’s over.”



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