Why did normal order go away?

Later today the House is to vote on HR 325, a bill to suspend the debt limit until mid-May and then the debt limit will automatically be increased by the new debt incurred during the interim.* The idea is to take away the notion of defaulting and then move toward normal order budgeting (Senate and House do their thing, including instructions to committees for things like tax reform, health policy, etc.) and then they bang it out in a conference committee(s). Just a few thoughts:

  • Normal order (House and Senate doing their thing and having conferences) really stopped with the release of the Simpson-Bowles plan in Decmeber, 2010. Recall that if it had gotten 14 of 18 votes that it was to get an  up or down vote in both Houses, so already that wasn’t normal order.You could say POTUS walked away from his own commission (I said it was a mistake in my book, namely because the Fiscal Commission assumed the implementation of the ACA), or you could say that Republicans (and Bernie Sanders) filibustered the initial proposal to create such a commission (aka Conrad-Gregg Commission) within the Congress (no one seems to remember this). My main point is that once you had a big commission and the promise of an up or down vote triggered by certain levels of passage, that was the end of normal order.
  • Then we had the debt limit fight of July/August 2011. No way there was going to be normal order while that typically political stunt event (party out of power laments debt increase, but a few vote for it if needed) was turned into some pledging to default, etc. for leverage. That was resolved by setting up a Super Committee that was supposed to either undo the Sequester with a Grand Bargain, or let the Sequester (that was designed to be mutually hated) move forward. No way there was going to be normal order while Super Committee was meeting; it sucked all the policy oxygen out of the room.
  • Then it was an election year, and the sun-setting of the taxes and the Sequester (together the fiscal cliff) and so there was no hope of normal order given those two things. There was even less hope of normal order when you had the administration moving to implement the ACA and Republicans saying if you elect us (House + Senate + Gov Romney) we will repeal the ACA.

That is how the last two years were ‘not normally ordered.’ Now there is a reasonable chance for a return to normal order and I generally think that is good thing. The area in most need of clarity is health policy, especially with House Republicans saying they will have a budget that will balance in 10 years (last Spring’s took 30). If they go ahead and embrace the higher tax baseline it will make it a bit easier, but they sure won’t be able to have a Medicare policy that says we have all these great things that will start in 10 years. Should be interesting.

In the drive for a sustainable budget, the Democratic party is far more reality based than are the Republicans for two reasons. First, they realize it will take higher taxes to fund any vaguely palatable level of spending as the Baby Boomers move into Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Second, they have a health reform plan that is flexible, meaning it allows for mid course corrections, additions, etc. Republicans say they want lower taxes, and still don’t have a coherent health reform approach even for a higher level of taxation, much less for one lower one. Normal order should make this a bit clearer.

*This approach has the effect of allowing the debt limit to increase without anyone ever voting for an explicit amount. This is actually a reasonable way to do this forever. It is better to fight it out via budgeting/appropriation process rather than after the fact.

cross posted at freeforall

Author: Don Taylor

Don Taylor is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, where his teaching and research focuses on health policy, with a focus on Medicare generally, and on hospice and palliative care, specifically. He increasingly works at the intersection of health policy and the federal budget. Past research topics have included health workforce and the economics of smoking. He began blogging in June 2009 and wrote columns on health reform for the Raleigh, (N.C.) News and Observer. He blogged at The Incidental Economist from March 2011 to March 2012. He is the author of a book, Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority that will be published by Springer in May 2012.

6 thoughts on “Why did normal order go away?”

  1. The link to HR 325 doesn’t work for me. Here’s another.
    The suspension trick is neat. It can of course be reused indefinitely, including Section 2 freezing the pay of Senators until the end of the Congress unless they agree a budget by concurrent resolution, i.e. normal order. Harry Reid must be trembling. Somehow I think Senators can get payday loans on slightly better terms than Wal-Mart shelf stockers.

  2. A27: No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

    1. Section 2 tries (according to its own text) to get round the constitutional ban by merely deferring payment. In common sense and Econ 101 logic, that’s indeed “varying the compensation”; but clearly some lawyer told Boehner the House GOP could get away with it, and with the Roberts Court, you never know. They might rule the sections are not severable and strike the whole bill.

  3. PS: HR 325 has just passed. A huge victory for President Obama. He refused to negotiate on any terms but surrender and won. Come May, if the GOP tries again, the precedent is on his side. The threat to trigger default will be even less credible.

    1. I’ll have to give a nod to Mark Kleiman. He predicted in an earlier post that the plutocrats would blink and they did. I think the R’s recent pow wow probably had a lot to do with this shift. They want to win bad in 2014. So perhaps they’re done with “principled tantrums” for now and they’ll shift tactics to… what?

  4. “You could say POTUS walked away from his own commission” – but given that the commission failed to agree on a proposal there wasn’t much to walk away from. There was a proposal which the two chairs of the Commission agreed to, but look at how the members of the commission from the House of Representatives voted on that proposal:

    Xavier Becerra (D) – no
    Dave Camp (R) – no
    Jeb Hensarling (R) – no
    Paul Ryan (R) – no
    Jan Schakowsky (D) – no
    John Spratt (D) – yes

    Five of the six voted against it, including all three Republicans. I think that Obama’s decision to try to negotiate a deficit reduction deal with Boehner was based on a realistic assessment that the proposal drafted by Simpson and Bowles had no change of passing in the House.

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