It looks like we can breathe a sigh of relief. Last night, Senate leaders struck a deal that is likely to avert a government shutdown. But some in the chamber aren’t so impressed. As one fed-up senator told me last week, the United States has a lot of problems and yet success in today’s Congress constitutes simply keeping the lights on.
This week’s shutdown threat was perhaps the most absurd yet. In most budget battles, the two parties are separated by many billions of dollars. Earlier this year, for instance, the compromise budget that averted a shutdown cut $78.5 billion from the president’s budget request. In this debate, however, the parties were separated by a mere $1.6 billion. The fact is that the preparations for — and certainly the reality of — a shutdown probably would have dwarfed the difference between the two bills.
And even if we escaped catastrophe this time, the new funding agreement will last only until Nov. 18, at which point Congress must decide how to fund the government through 2012. You can bet that debate is likely to lead to a near-shutdown — if not an actual one — too. That will be the fourth shutdown fight of 2011, if you include the debt-ceiling debacle.