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Expect a budget agreement this summer but not a long-term solution, says Strahan

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President Barack Obama is pushing for a budget agreement and Congress canceled its July 4 recess, but don’t expect the outcome to be a budget deal that sets America back on course, says Emory University political science professor and Congressional politics expert Randy Strahan.

“It’s possible that there will be a longer-term agreement of around $2 trillion in deficit reduction,” says Strahan. “But, I think it’s likely that they agree to some shorter extension of the debt ceiling that would require that the two parties come back together before the 2012 election.”

Budget Roadblocks

While the ideological differences of the two parties have nearly halted the discussions, Strahan says both sides truly want to fix the budget problem now, but it’s more likely that we see a long-term proposal after next year’s elections.

“Both [parties] are cautious about getting in a position that’s going to be disadvantageous for the 2012 election cycle,” he explains. “I think one historical analogy to think about is the conflict of the budget back in the 1990s. We had a very intense debate and some confrontations and government shutdowns when we had a divided government, but it took ultimately about two years for an agreement to get worked out and it didn’t come until after the 1996 presidential election.”

Divided Government

If the 2012 election cycle passes and the country still is run by a divided government, Strahan believes that may actually help Congress pass substantial budget legislation. Why? Divided government “allows the parties to hold hands and jump together,” he says.

“The only way to reduce the deficit is by delivering bad news,” Strahan explains. “It’s either increases in taxes or reductions in spending and benefits the government provides to citizens. The politics of that are tough regardless of which direction the reform package goes.” 

Strahan’s expertise includes partisanship and leadership in Congress. He is the author of "Leading Representatives: The Agency of Leaders in the Politics of the U.S. House" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

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