Last week, a headline appeared in Politico newspaper that read: “Senate advances budget deal that doesn’t exist yet.”
That is what happens when you don’t pass spending bills as Congress is obligated to do.
What also occurs are last minute scrambles to avoid government shutdowns, which is what we saw repeated in the nation’s capital this week. It has almost become routine and seemingly no longer even cause for alarm.
But we should be alarmed.
One again, Congress failed in its obligation to pass the 12 separate annual appropriations (or spending) bills it has a responsibility to enact. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill only passed as part of the continuing resolution legislation, which was the stop-gap measure to keep the government operating from the end of the fiscal year on September 30, until December 9.
The Senate has now passed three of the separate spending bills in the last seven years – out of a total of 84. The House has approved 37 over the past 7 years, which is not even half. And over the same period, the House and Senate have both come together to pass exactly one appropriations bill – and that was legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security that was held over from the year before!
Why does this matter? Because it puts our federal government on spending autopilot. Rather than discerning which programs have merit and are effective and efficient, and which should receive less or even no funding, Congress provides money indiscriminately, across the board. Since the Constitution provides Congress with the “power of the purse,” this is an unacceptable abrogation of a fundamental obligation – not only to American tax payers, but to the overall good of the country.
No responsible business or household would operate in this manner. Yet Congress has done so for years, with impunity.
A September 26 article by Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post made several troubling observations:
“In fact, this year the House couldn’t even pass a budget resolution setting out the broad outlines for what Congress plans to spend, which is the first step in the budget process; this is only the second year since 1975 that the House was unable to pass such a plan.”
The piece continued on to say that, “Additionally, neither the House nor the Senate even held a hearing on the president’s budget request, the first and only time a president has been refused one since 1975. With no budget resolution of regular appropriations bills ready to go, Congress is now merely trying to extend current funding levels for a few more months. This would allow legislators to return to the campaign trail and delay the hard decisions until after Election Day.”
Indeed, that is what has taken place, as lawmakers punted once again and extended the current funding levels. The fact that Congress averted another government shutdown has become the new, low bar for celebration in the nation’s capital.
Our Constitution employed an extraordinary series of checks and balances for our government. Perhaps the greatest of all “checks” is the power vested in the American people to cast their ballots on Election Day. But if there is never a penalty for behavior which damages the most basic functions of Congress, the behavior will not change. The question is, will we all step up and exercise not only what is our right but our responsibility – and demand accountability?