President Bush has been proven wrong in some big and spectacular ways this week. But while he continues to channel his foreign policy advice from Pluto, Bush is right about one thing, even though he's just playing it up for political gain. The Democrats should be ashamed that they haven't gotten their act together on the budget.
Now, I've been called a partisan Democrat before, but I reject the accusation. Being a partisan means being blind to mistakes made by your side, and trotting out spin and excuses for such mistakes. While I admit to a lefty bias and have to agree that it's more fun to write about Republican follies than Democratic blunders, I pride myself on holding the spotlight of criticism up to either side when it fully deserves it. Which, in this case, the Democrats do.
"The budget" for the United States government is in reality a series of bills passed by Congress and signed into law by the President (or passed into law by two-thirds vote, over a presidential veto). These bills authorize spending money for various parts of the government. There are 12 of these "appropriations" bills (variously reported as 11 or 13, for some unfathomable reason), each covering a large chunk of the federal government.
These bills are all supposed to be passed and signed into law by October 1st, which is when the federal government starts its fiscal year. Sadly, this due date is almost never met. What happens instead is, while Democrats bicker with Republicans, while Democrats bicker with Democrats, while the House bickers with the Senate, and while the White House bickers with everybody... the bills don't get passed and signed in time.
At this point, there is a flurry of action while a "continuing resolution" is passed, which keeps the money flowing at last year's levels until the new year's budget is in place. Congress always passes these, and the President always signs them (with the one notable exception being the Clinton/Gingrich standoff in the 1990s). They basically punt the ball a few months down the road. Sometimes (like last year, for instance), they just give up all hope of passing a budget and passed a continuing resolution for the entire year.
This is, to coin a phrase, a hell of a way to run a country.
It is also a bipartisan problem. Both parties do this when they're in power in Congress. Republicans were in charge last year, when no budget passed at all. Democrats are in charge now, and it is over two months since the due date and not much progress has been made yet. One bill passed and was signed. One bill was passed and vetoed. The other ten bills have yet to get out of Congress.
This is pathetic. Passing a budget is the number one responsibility of everyone in Congress. If "Member of Congress" had a job description, this would be the first item on the list. And yet they fail, year after year, to get it done in a timely manner. This means they are failing to perform one of the key functions of their job.
Luckily, there's an easy solution to this problem. Well, easy to state and easy to understand, but perhaps impossible politically -- seeing as how it would have to be written into law by the very people who will be directly affected. But one can always hope.
Here's how to fix the problem: if the budget isn't in place by October 1st each year, then everything in the entire federal government could be funded from that point on by a continuing resolution with one exception -- the paychecks of everyone in Congress and the President would end, until a full budget was in place. We, the people (their employers) would cut their pay until they got the job done. Want to bet that would speed the process up?
No budget, no paycheck.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant