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As the Clock Ticks, Washington Grasps for a Deal
By Andrew Goldberg, Assoc. AIA, Managing Director, Government Relations & Outreach

    Lawmakers in Washington are scrambling to finalize a deal to reopen the federal government and avoid a default, which could happen as early as Thursday.

    As of Tuesday afternoon a deal was emerging between Senate Republicans and Democrats to end the impasse that has shuttered the government, rattled global stock markets, and further aggravated partisan tensions – but even this tentative deal is by no means assured.

    Many federal agencies have been closed and federal employees furloughed since October 1, the first day of the new fiscal year, because Congress and the White House have been unable to agree on legislation to fund federal agencies. Although the shutdown is beginning to ripple through the broader economy, including for architects, a far greater concern among economists and others is the possibility that come Thursday, the U.S. Treasury will exhaust its borrowing authority, leaving it unable to pay the government's bills.

    Although the shutdown began as a debate over whether to fund the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, the emerging deal leaves the law basically untouched. The deal would reopen federal agencies and provide them funding until January 15 and allow the Treasury to continue borrowing money until early February. The plan also would require both chambers of Congress to negotiate a larger budget framework by mid-December.

    The proposed January 15th date for keeping the government open is significant, because that is also the day on which the second round of sequestration budget cuts is scheduled to kick in. Senate Democrats in the Obama administration have wanted to delay or cancel these cuts, while Republicans have insisted that they remain in effect. The proposal to government open until January 15 means that next big debate over the budget will need to address the sequestration.

    The fact that this deal is being negotiated by the two top Senate leaders, Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), means there is a good likelihood that it will have broad support to pass the Senate. However, that does not mean it will be easy; in order to expedite the legislation to ensure it passes by Thursday, the Senate will need to gain the support from all 100 members. It is not clear if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and others block or delay action on this bill.

    Even if this plan, or something like it, passes the Senate, there is no guarantee that it will pass the house, where Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is working on his own bill that would open the government and raise the debt ceiling but also make more substantive changes to Obamacare. Although it is possible that a combination of Republican and Democratic House members could give the Senate plan the votes it needs to pass, it is far from certain that the Speaker would bring up a bill if it does not have the support of a majority, or at least significant number, of Republican members.

    Even if the legislation is not signed into law by Thursday, it is not fully clear what the impact would be on the economy. Some observers have noted that the real key date for a default is November 1, when a significant amount of Social Security and veterans benefits need to be paid out, which would be jeopardized if the government is unable to borrow in order to pay them. However even coming close to hitting the debt ceiling may cause major anxiety for global stock markets, and could impact the fragile world economy. That’s why, even as the world watches Washington, Washington might be training its gaze about 200 miles to the north, to Wall Street.

    Stay tuned to the AIA Issues and Advocacy page for updates on government activity, and track us on Facebook and Twitter.


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This content is published by the AIA Government and Community Relations Department, 1735 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20006. To contact the AIA’s Government & Community Relations team, send an email to govaffs@aia.org.

 

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