No Reason To Celebrate

[ Posted Thursday, January 18th, 2024 – 17:35 UTC ]

Breaking news from Washington: budgetary disaster has been averted, once again! The government will not partially shut down tomorrow at midnight, as Congress just successfully passed a continuing resolution through both houses which will keep funding the government until at least the first of March. And they even accomplished this feat one day early!

You'll have to forgive me if I'm not impressed. In the first place, they got it done a day early for an entirely self-serving reason: so they wouldn't be trapped in Washington by a giant snowstorm (scheduled to hit tomorrow). It's an open secret that Congress can indeed get things done very quickly when they really want to. However, they only ever really want to when their own free time is at risk, which is rather pathetic when you think about it.

In the second place, this is not an actual budget. It is yet again no more than a punt. They are kicking the football down the road for another month or so because they "don't have time" to get an actual budget together. But this comes with a gigantic caveat:

Lawmakers will have to move faster to pass the 12 appropriations bills than it appears. The House and Senate are only in session together six days between Friday and March 1, the first deadline of Thursday's bill, and 10 days between Friday and March 8, the second deadline.

By my count, six days is only roughly one-fifth of the available working days (28 or 29, depending on whether you count March 1st or not). That doesn't exactly display a huge sense of urgency, you've got to admit.

Congress is still mightily trying to get a budget passed which should have been in place by the first of October of last year. If they manage to accomplish this basic constitutional duty of theirs by March 1st, then five entire months will have passed without a complete federal budget in place. Again, that's not something to really brag about.

Of course, this entire problem could be very simply fixed. Note I said "simply" there, and not "easily." The way to assure a federal budget is actually in place each year by the October deadline would be to cut off all the lawmakers' paychecks if it isn't. And then bar them from retroactively getting their back pay when they do manage to get one in place. That one change worked absolute wonders out here in California (budget battles which used to drag on for months in some years are now non-existent -- we get a budget in place every single year now, on time, like clockwork), and it would likely do exactly the same thing in Washington. However, it would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment, which means the chances of it actually happening are roughly zero.

If this were a year in which a budget had already been in place by now, then Congress would already be working on next year's budget. They would have plenty of time between now and October to get one in place -- even with their lackadaisical work schedule. But they won't even begin to earnestly work on next year's budget until the current year's budget is finished -- which is going to take at least another month. And nobody in their right mind expects a budget to be in place by the start of October this year, because it is an election year (they will likely get their act together just before the end of the calendar year, when this Congress disbands so the newly-elected Congress can assemble at the start of January).

This is, to coin a phrase, no way to run a country. It is downright pathetic, in fact. The one thing Congress is required to do each and every year is to pass a federal budget. The fact that this task is almost beyond their abilities is a glaring condemnation of Congress as a whole, and the Republican House of Representatives in particular. The final deal which will emerge could easily have been agreed to five months ago. Everyone knows the general outlines of what will make it into the final budget and what will not be included. All of the grandstanding measures that the House Republicans fought so hard over will end up on the cutting room floor, since the Senate Democrats are never going to agree to all their poison pills. This basic dynamic has not changed. And yet the House wasted untold amounts of time fighting over them all -- even though any sane person knew they were never going to get past the Senate. It's all been a giant waste of time, for purely political reasons.

The big question now is whether Speaker Mike Johnson will continue to hold his leadership post or not. He promised his fellow Republicans that he wouldn't pass any kick-the-can-down-the-road continuing resolutions as speaker. Then he had to pass one, almost immediately, because of an approaching deadline. His caucus gave him a Mulligan on that one, since they had wasted the entire month of October choosing him as speaker, but Johnson swore that that would be it -- no more!

He just broke that promise, by passing another C.R.

Earlier this month, Johnson agreed to the same budget deal that got his predecessor Kevin McCarthy booted from the speaker's chair (for the first time in American history). And now Johnson has gone back on his promise not to pass another C.R., so Johnson could now be in the same jeopardy McCarthy faced. Will any of the hotheaded Republican House members move forward with a "motion to vacate the chair," when they all return? Your guess is as good as mine -- it's impossible to predict what the GOP crazies will do at any given point. Due to the razor-thin majority of the House Republicans, it might only take two or three Republicans voting to oust Johnson for him to be deposed. If they do boot Johnson out, this would likely almost guarantee that they won't hit that March 1st deadline, but they wouldn't care.

The continuing resolution which passed the House today passed in the same manner as the other two did this year: with overwhelming Democratic support and the support of about half the House Republicans. That is precisely how the final budget deal is going to pass, too. The Senate will lead the way in the negotiations, putting together a budget which can pass with a big bipartisan vote in the Senate and the House. The only real obstacle has always been the House GOP hotheads who refuse to accept the realities that divided government forces upon them. And they might vent their collective spleen after seeing us all avoid a government shutdown by ousting their leader.

So you'll forgive me if I'm not exactly celebrating the fact that Congress did the absolute bare minimum today. And you'll forgive me if the fact that they got it done a day early prompts no more than an eye-roll from me as well. The only thing I can actually find in this sad state of affairs to actually celebrate is that all of this melodrama has absolutely consumed the attention of the House Republicans to such an extent that they haven't been doing anything worse. I suppose I should be happy that they've been so self-absorbed in fighting battles that are completely and utterly meaningless to the final result because it distracts them from all the other nonsense they could have gotten up to. Which is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “No Reason To Celebrate”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    Will any of the hotheaded Republican House members move forward with a "motion to vacate the chair," when they all return?

    If Donald Trump wants the government shut down, they will.

    Your guess is as good as mine -- it's impossible to predict what the GOP crazies will do at any given point.

    The Castrated Caucus will do whatever Trump tells them to do. By the time the recent CR winds down, I think Trump is likely to want the government shut down because he'll be in a pissy mood after having the DC Appeals panel slap down his delusional idea of "absolute immunity" for President of the United States and also a jury in New York awarding millions (more) in actual and punitive damages to E. Jean Carroll because Defendant Donald does not know when to shut his face.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So you'll forgive me if I'm not exactly celebrating the fact that Congress did the absolute bare minimum today.

    That's okay, you can go ahead and celebrate Biden's big win in the Ukraine war. Yeah, seriously!

    The New York Times ... all the news that's fit to spin!

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