Keeping the lights on

Congress' members at loggerheads over many fixable issues

Another major budget decision in Washington, another showdown.

The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1, but there’s no 2012 budget in place, and Congress this week had to come up with temporary spending measures to keep the government going in order to avoid a partial shutdown.

Why is this happening?

Several reasons.

First, Democrats in charge of the Senate have not approved a federal budget since early 2009 – not even in 2010, when the party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.

The Republican House passed a 2012 budget back in April, but the Senate has failed to answer it. Normally the two chambers work out differences in a conference committee, then pass a unified bill.

But again, this is a Senate that hasn’t passed a budget since 2009 – which seems to be against the law.

Instead, Democrats have decided to wait until the money runs out and declare a crisis they can blame on Republicans. In this case, Republicans wanted disaster relief funds in the budget to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget – a pretty responsible and reasonable step to take, when our annual deficit already exceeds $1 trillion. But Democrats are highly allergic to spending cuts.

In short, House Speaker John Boehner has managed to run a functional and productive House where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not: As syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock notes, “Through September 15, the GOP House had voted 711 times. Meanwhile, across the same period, the Democratic Senate had only 137 recorded votes.”

Yes, the Senate is supposed to be more deliberative. But come on. The dog can’t always eat your homework!

So that’s one big reason.

Another reason for the stalemates is that Democrats categorically reject the message sent by voters last November, which was to cut spending and get the nation’s fiscal house in order. It’s as if the “shellacking” of 2010 – the president’s word, not ours – never happened.

Conversely, the young lions of the Tea Party movement have adhered to the people’s mandate religiously, perhaps to a fault. They need to understand they can’t change Washington overnight – and that it’s not treasonous to sometimes accept what you can get when the cards are stacked against you. And the cards are stacked against them, at least until the next election. Speaker Boehner has done yeoman’s work by navigating the differing currents in the House – running rings around Reid legislatively.

But the bigger-picture reason that Washington is at loggerheads, especially at budget time, is that the nation’s leadership may be in a slow two-year transition – from left-wing rule to more centrist/right of center management. Only time will tell.

Oddly enough, Democrats would likely benefit from following the House’s lead. If the government were more aggressive about cutting spending, that would most likely shore up confidence in the financial markets, and perhaps lead to a more vibrant economy.

Don’t hold your breath, though. For now, we just need to keep the lights on.

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