Even Dr. Seuss would have had a hard time imagining just how absurd the latest congressional budget debate has become.
With lawmakers on the verge of putting the U.S. government out of business for the third time in as many years, the latest budget battle has veered even further off course than past efforts to drive the government off a fiscal cliff.
Five days before the current $4 trillion funding law expires, the discussion this week devolved into a 21-hour diatribe by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on the sweeping health-care law that begins providing coverage next month to millions of uninsured Americans.
"When Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham and they did not like Obamacare either," Cruz said Wednesday. "They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house or with a mouse. It is not working."
Neither is the ongoing effort to bring the government's revenues and spending back into balance. About the only remaining source of agreement is the grim outlook if Congress doesn't fix the way the government spends the taxes it collects.
"The bottom line remains the same as it was last year," Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office, told a news conference last week. "The federal budget is on a course that cannot be sustained indefinitely."
The CBO offered a glimmer of hope in its latest budget assessment, showing a dramatic reduction in the federal budget gap. But the abrupt tax increases and spending cuts have come at the worst possible time as the economy is struggling to grow at 2 percent a year, he said.
The result, say independent budget watchdogs, is that Congress is getting it wrong on two counts.
"You've never come out of a recession with such dramatic deficit reductions," said Josh Gordon, policy director at the Concord Coalition, an independent budget watchdog group. "But very little if any of the short-term deficit reduction is in any way related to preparing for the long-term challenges. It's really bad fiscal policy. "
For the current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1, the federal government's spending gap shrank by more than a third, to a little over $600 billion from about $1 trillion a year ago. As the economy has grown, the deficit has also fallen in relation to gross domestic product—a widely used benchmark of spending policy.