|SITREP - January 18th 2012|
As the first week of the 2012 legislative session draws to a close, I wanted to give you a quick idea of what to expect over the next few months.
In general, every spring in Washington is dominated by the debate over the annual budget. Historically, the president submits a budget request to Congress and then the House and Senate pass separate budget resolutions setting limits and priorities for the next year.
It’s hard to overstate how important this part of the annual process is. As everybody knows, the “purse strings” power that the Founding Fathers gave Congress is the main check against what would otherwise be the runaway power of the presidency. If Congress doesn’t get its “purse strings” work done, it has failed the country on its most basic responsibility.
The process has to start with a budget. Then, using the guidelines and caps established in the budget resolution, the House and Senate produce authorization bills for each government agency telling them what they can and can’t spend money on. Coupled with those authorization bills are the twelve annual appropriations bills that actually apply the funding to those authorized programs and activities.
When Congress doesn’t get those bills done, they end up having to cram everything into an “omnibus” or a “continuing resolution”. An omnibus means that some or all of the twelve appropriations bills are lumped together in a single bill and passed en masse - without the same level of scrutiny and thoughtfulness as happens when they are dealt with individually. Worse still is the “continuing resolution”, where essentially no consideration is given and Congress votes to continue funding the government at current levels.
I bring all of this up for two reasons. First, you should expect your government to do its job and carefully consider the government’s finances each year (particularly in years when the country’s finances are in such horrible shape). That hasn’t happened in recent years and I bring this up now because we are at a critical point for the year ahead.
Consider the recent history:
Next Tuesday will mark 1,000 days since the last time the United States Senate passed a budget resolution. Coincidentally, it is also the day that President Obama is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union Address.
Because the Senate hasn’t passed a budget document in almost three years, the Congress has essentially had to “wing it”. Without the spending caps for various programs and accounts, there has been no governing set of priorities. There has been no consensus around what the appropriations committees were supposed to accomplish. And not surprisingly, we’ve had far too many “omnibuses” and “continuing resolutions”.
In any case, that’s the generally expected process for the Spring and Summer, or at least what it’s supposed to look like. If you have a chance, please get in touch with your senators and stay after them about passing a budget in their chamber. And as always, if you’ve got anything else on your mind, please let me know.