Today’s Courier Herald Column:
“Kick the can” is perhaps the most overused euphemism in Washington these days. It seems at each point a critical deadline on a fiscal issue draws near, some sort of patchwork solution that merely extends the deadline is crafted. We all then write stories about how Congress is just playing “kick the can.”
While we all generally know what that means, I doubt many of us know the rules of the game or more importantly how the game ends. It seems as best I can recall the game ends when the participant gets tired of playing.
Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is tired of playing. On Thursday he along with co-sponsor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act. The legislation is crafted as an amendment to the Continuing Resolution and will require the annual appropriations process to move to a two-year budget cycle. Isakson says via press release that this “would force Congress to become better stewards of the taxpayers’ money by placing Congress on a two-year budget cycle with one year for appropriating federal dollars and the other year devoted to oversight of federal programs.”
The idea sounds simple, and is one that Isakson has backed before. Yet there is growing frustration from all parts of Washington, and more importantly from the electorate, that Congress and the President no longer follow the budgetary process. Instead, we move from short term patch to shorter term compromise. Big picture solutions are lost to the prioritization of the extension of the status quo. Each crisis begets another fight. Each one sacrificing time and energy for little more than the privilege of having the same battle again weeks or months later.
The annual budgetary process, required by law, is largely ignored. While the House has been passing budgets, the Senate hasn’t passed one since the original iPad was released. The President, required by law to submit a budget to Congress by February 4th, has yet to get around to it. When pressed by Congressman Tom Price as to when Congress could expect it, the President told him “probably within a couple of week” as reported by Daniel Malloy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Most in Washington have themselves grown weary of the never ending short term battles. The House successfully pushed an attachment to the last increase in the debt ceiling which would withhold the pay of Congress should a budget not get passed within each chamber this year. Isakson’s solution to make this a process one of two year cycles is a larger step towards focusing on longer term appropriations within a specified cycle and then allowing Congress to focus on other matters every other year.
Given that the Senate is the more difficult body to move any legislation through to passage, one wonders if this attachment would stand a chance. The lead sponsors are bi-partisan, so that is a sign of hope. A better sign came from a chance conversation with Senator Isakson himself as we waited to board a flight back home to Atlanta Thursday evening.
I mentioned that I had almost finished a column about this legislation, and offered that I hoped it might have a chance to pass so that the process could be reset into a more certain timeframe with a focus on big picture items. He leaned in with a bit of a grin and asked “You know Harry Reid offered his support for it today, don’t you?”
Actually, I didn’t. And that is significant, as Reid hasn’t seemed to make pushing a budget through the Senate a priority in the past. With Reid first signing on to the House’s “no budget, no pay” provision, and now supporting two-year budget cycles, it is perhaps a sign that the era of never ending continuing resolutions may be coming to an end.
Perhaps, just perhaps, everyone is really tired of playing kick the can. And as best I can tell, quitting that game is how you win it. Hopefully Isakson has found the way to win here.