Congress Passes 4 More Weeks Of Government

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

At some point, reasonable people must ask themselves why do we do things this way? Thursday, again, the House and Senate passed a short term continuing resolution to fund the government until December 16th. The federal government’s fiscal year began on October 1st, but that day is nearly meaningless to Congress these days. The last time a budget was passed prior to the beginning of the fiscal year was in 1994.

At least some could say they’re making progress. Full year funding for three of twelve appropriations areas, including Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science, and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development, were included in the vote. The remaining areas continue to be debated.
Opposition to the measures came mostly from Republicans who believe that the rate of spending is not being cut fast enough. A quote released from Congressman Lynn Westmoreland makes the case for opposition:

“I made a promise to my constituents that I would cut federal spending, pay down our national debt, and get this country back on a path of fiscal responsibility. The spend now, pay later mentality Congressional Democrats and President Obama have instituted in Congress these last several years have resulted in a 40 percent increase in our national debt. Earlier this week, our national debt topped $15 trillion – that’s larger than the size of our country’s entire economy. Our failure to address this problem in any kind of real way has resulted in a downgrade in our credit rating and is leaving our children and grandchildren with crushing debt they may never be able to pay off. While I am pleased to see that House Republicans have been able to change the debate in Washington from more spending to more cuts, I believe the discretionary spending levels in this CR are still too high. When you’re dealing with a federal budget of almost $4 trillion, cutting federal spending $7 billion – or less than one fifth of one percent of the total federal budget – is just a drop in the bucket. We owe the American people more.”

For all the rhetoric surrounding the budgetary process over the past year, the actual cuts in spending are now measured in increments of less than one percent. That’s hardly a meat axe that is being taken to the appropriations rolls. While most still believe that entitlements must bear the burden of real reforms to balance the budget, the portion of the electorate that has been demanding spending cuts is not likely going to be placated by cuts of .2 percent. At some point, those railing against the wasteful spending of Washington are going to have to be asked why it has not been identified and singled out for elimination – and who should be held accountable.

As for the process itself, that too has a couple of potential remedies working its way through Congress. One is by Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson who would like to move to a 2-year budget cycle. Setting the budget for 2 year periods would allow Congress to hopefully spend less total time on appropriations, and leave less need for constant continuing resolutions to fund the government in place of a fixed budget. The goal would be to spend one year on appropriations, and then have the off year to focus on scrutinizing federal programs. The current system is monopolized by figuring out who gets money, while Isakson’s reforms would force the process to inspect how appropriated money is being spent and its effectiveness. It’s a worthy proposal.

Another proposal that deserves more attention is the resurrection of the balanced budget amendment, which will be voted on soon in the U.S. House. The measure failed in 1995 by one vote after being a central plank in the contract with America. With less public awareness and demand for the measure this time around, the vote is unfortunately symbolic and a marker for upcoming elections.

If passed and ratified by the states, the amendment would have the effective hard cap on spending called for in the Republicans “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan. The fixed cap would probably also allow more Republicans to go along with revenue increases to decrease the deficit, as the budget process would finally be restored to one where spending must match revenue. Restoring the link that a dollar of additional spending means a dollar of additional taxes is vital to getting a budget system based on priorities and tradeoffs.

For now, the system will continue as-is. The CR will likely be replaced with another in December, and the Super Committee may well decide to punt mid-holiday season while no one is paying much attention and decide that how much money Congress taxes and spends is now best left to the Presidential campaign. It is, after all, at the ballot box where the American people get to answer if the status quo is the best way to get things done.


  1. saltycracker says:

    Dad needs a new suit for the business conference
    Mom needs a new cocktail dress to go with him
    Kid needs a new video game to stay home alone

    The credit cards are maxed, the retirement savings are spent, but these are critical to each or we’ll never improve our income & happiness……screw it…gotta spend & borrow to leverage return……get the limit raised and deal with it some other day…..


    It ain’t over, until it is over……Greece (sic) the skids……

  2. Three Jack says:

    house votes against balanced budget amendment —

    congressman paul ryan on his ‘no’ vote — ”
    “I’m concerned that this version will lead to a much bigger government fueled by more taxes. Spending is the problem, yet this version of the [balanced-budget amendment] makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished.”

    the bba is nothing more than a diversionary tactic to avoid seriously doing the job all congressmen are elected to do. same goes for the so-called ‘super committee’ which should never have been formed in lieu of one of the permanent committees fulfilling its’ obligation to put forth a responsible budget. the american people are in the middle of one long punk job by congress.

  3. Herb says:

    I’m glad about this. It is Congresses main perogative to keep the government running & solvent, and they’ve succeeded. See what a little Bi-partisanship can do, Republicans?

  4. Charlie says:

    Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-09) issued the following statement after voting to amend the U.S. Constitution to include a balanced federal budget:

    “Years of wasteful Washington spending finally caught up to the United States. The staggering amount of debt that Washington mounted is absolutely appalling and a monster of our own making. History has proven that Washington, D.C. cannot exercise fiscal restraint when it comes to opening the federal wallet without force, whether by threat of a default, a government shutdown or the will of the American people. If we are to ensure the success of America for future generations, out-of-control spending must be checked and the Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution considered today is the best and only way to restore fiscal stability. Despite failing to get the two-thirds vote needed in the House today, it is my hope that Congress will continue to push for a Balanced Budget Amendment in order to right the fiscal course of America.”


    · H.J. Res. 2 amends the U.S. Constitution to prohibit outlays for a fiscal year from exceeding total receipts for that fiscal year unless Congress, by a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber, authorizes a specific excess of outlays over receipts.

    · Requires a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber to increase the public debt limit.

    · Directs the President to submit a balanced budget to Congress annually.

    · Prohibits any bill to increase revenue from becoming law unless approved by a majority of each chamber by roll call vote.

    · Authorizes waivers of these provisions when a declaration of war is in effect or under other specified circumstances involving military conflict.

    · Rep. Graves is a co-sponsor of H.J. Res. 2.

    • Three Jack says:

      graves went on to say (in his best vinny barbarino voice), ‘what, china thought we had the money to pay them back’?

  5. Charlie says:

    Westmoreland: “The Time for a Balanced Budget Amendment is Now”

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, after last-minute opposition from House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD-05), the House of Representatives failed to pass a balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution. H.J.Res. 2 failed by a vote of 261-165. In order for a Constitutional Amendment to be successful, it must pass both chambers with two-thirds majority in favor, or 290 votes in the House.

    “Minority Whip Steny Hoyer stated this week that ‘now is not the time’ for a balanced budget amendment” stated Westmoreland. “Well I’d like to ask him, exactly when does he think will be the time? This week, our national debt reached an unbelievable $15 trillion. To put that in perspective, the U.S. economy is the largest economy in the history of the world. It is about three times the size of the second and third largest economies in the world currently – Japan and China. And our national debt is now one trillion dollars larger than our entire economy. If we were to attempt to pay that debt off, every man, woman, and child in this country would have to fork over almost $48,000 to the federal government. And that number grows at an almost inconceivable rate each day. In fact, our debt has become so large that the interest we pay on our debt is the fourth largest expenditure in our country. I’m sorry Mr. Hoyer, but with numbers like this, clearly the time for a balanced budget amendment is now.”

    In addition to adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, H.J.Res. 2 would have also required a three-fifths majority vote in both the House and the Senate to increase the debt limit in the future, would require the president to submit a balanced budget each fiscal year to Congress, and would have required a majority vote of Congress to increase taxes. The balanced budget amendment could have been waived for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect or in any year that the U.S. is “engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution…which becomes law.”

    “Since President Obama took power in January 2009, we have seen our national debt increase $4.4 trillion – and that was while Congressional Democrats were imposing their so-called ‘pay-go’ rule,” stated Westmoreland. “Clearly, Congress cannot spend within its means. We have seen time and time again promises made by one Congress to cut spending broken two years later by a subsequent Congress. Enough is enough. We absolutely must get our spending under control before we drive this country into bankruptcy, leaving our children and grandchildren with crushing debt they could never hope to pay off. I am so disappointed that many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle cast a vote against fiscal responsibility today.”

    According a recent CNN poll, 74 percent of Americans favor a Constitutional Amendment to require a balanced budget. Currently, 49 states have some form of a balanced budget requirement. A balanced budget amendment has been proposed many times since 1936. It achieved the necessary two-thirds majority in the House in 1995, but failed by a single vote in the Senate.

  6. gcp says:

    The only specific cut Isakson talks about is Obamacare. Westmoreland talks about cutting federal spending while several months ago he supported using federal money to buy a local airport in his district. Strange how so many Republicans support a balanced budget but they don’t say which programs to cut to get there.

  7. Harry says:

    Two words: Ron Paul. We’re four years late getting him elected. The situation much worse than people realize – we’re on the edge of hyper-stagflation. Many of us who blew off RP four years ago will be voting for him this time. The only two I can see as president are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. RP would flat refuse to sign trash legislation. Mitt would restructure. I don’t trust any of the others to be effective leaders as we circle the drain.

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