While President Obama and Congress may have averted short-term economic disaster by reaching an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling, in the long term they are undermining the nation's competitiveness in the new, clean energy economy and defunding clean air and water programs.
Obama told reporters Sunday night he has reached a last-minute deal with Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion limit on US borrowing.
As part of the deal, the federal government will cut $1 trillion in spending over the next decade and set up a bipartisan panel in Congress to explore deeper cuts.
According to a report in the New York Times, the agreement is likely to cut domestic spending by roughly another $40 billion next year - below the deep budget reductions already negotiatied in April to avoid a government shutdown.
Those cuts already pushed back important programs in the EPA, Dept of Energy and Dept of the Interior, and now funding is likely to be all but erased for renewable energy and energy efficiency grants, renewable energy research, and environmental enforcement.
"It's moving so fast that nobody has really focused on the details of any of these plans," Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) told Greenwire. "It doesn't amount to a whole lot of money, but it will cause a whole lot of anguish."
Alan Rowsome, director of conservation funding for the Wilderness Society, says the environmental community has been so focused on defeating devastating budget bills proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives, that it has not given attention to the negotiations over the debt ceiling.
The end result is that the pool of money available for domestic spending is about to be drained, and battles over individual budget bills may be trumped by the prerequisite to reduce spending across the board.
Democratic Congressional leaders say there will still be wiggle room to provide growth funding for key environmental and energy programs, but that doesn't change the fact that they've been allowing Republicans to back them into a corner, and in order to have influence on future spending bills they must retain control in Washington through the 2012 elections.
Times columnist Paul Krugman on Sunday wrote that President Obama has essentially surrendered to Republicans, who have now proven that playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the nation's economy (or "raw extortion", as Krugman calls it) is a viable means to achieving political ends.
"It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.
"In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t."