Punt. Pass. Fail. Our Congress Strikes Again.

The fiscal year is 168 days old, and the federal government is still operating without a budget. And it doesn’t look like one will be arriving anytime soon.

As school kids know, Congress has the responsibility to appropriate funds for the government to spend. It’s right there in Article 1 of the Constitution.

But this year — and let’s not mince words — lawmakers have fallen down on the job.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle haven’t passed up on any opportunities to play the game of kick-the-president-around-the-room, accusing him of “punting on this issue” despite the fact it is their damn job to craft this thing.

Theirs. Not his.

As has been tradition since the early 1900’s (yes, for the majority of our nation’s history the President didn’t even do that much) President Obama first proposed a budget for fiscal year 2011 on Feb. 1, 2010. That was 460 days ago.

If the process worked as designed, Congress would have taken a look at the president’s suggestions. Lawmakers on the budget committees would have set target spending levels, and appropriations committees would have hammered out spending plans to fit.

The result was supposed to be 12 separate appropriations bills. Congress would have voted on each, and moved them to the president’s desk. That’s all supposed to happen by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year.

What we got was lots of talk, very little action.

Here’s what Congress did manage to do: The House produced two of 12 appropriations bills. The Senate has not voted on a single one. Lawmakers couldn’t even agree on their own legislative budget.

And those two House votes? They happened way back in July, when Democrats had huge majorities in the House and Senate, with Obama in the White House.

Why Democrats failed to take more action when they had the chance remains somewhat of a mystery. Remember, this is the same Congress that moved heaven and earth to enact landmark health care and Wall Street reform laws.

“Certainly the White House didn’t make the budget a priority,” Zelizer said. “And there are divisions in the Democratic Party, and especially in the Senate, that are significant. Not everyone is on the same page.”

In the absence of a full-year budget, lawmakers have instead passed six short-term spending bills called “continuing resolutions.” Designed to bridge short-term gaps in appropriations, Congress has approved one after another to keep the government running. Average length: 34 days.

The budget punt has implications for effective governance.

Continuing resolutions, with the exception of the most recent effort by Congress, freeze spending at the prior year’s levels.

This forces federal agencies into a whiplash inducing game of stop-and-go. Hiring is delayed, projects lose momentum, and agencies struggle to implement new legislation. Uncertainty is king, with agencies left to guess what their funding level for the year might be.

Add in the threat of imminent government shutdown coming around, on average, once a month, and it’s easy to see why agencies are praying the budget Merry-Go-Round stops soon.

As if to call attention to their own failure, both Republicans and Democrats have spent months issuing high-profile calls for a return to responsible budgeting.

But talk is cheap and they have made no progress.

Yesterday Senate overwhelmingly passed another stop-gap spending measure to prevent Friday’s threatened government shutdown, but increasing conservative opposition is making the task of negotiating a lasting deal deeply complicated for Republican leaders.

Congress now has another three-week reprieve before the country is again at risk of a halt in government services. Talks continue behind the scenes to reach a long-term budget solution, but things do not look good.

“This is a measure that indicates they [lawmakers] are not doing well,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “Polarization in Congress is so extreme, and this reflects the difficulty lawmakers face in making decisions.”

The outcome of Thursday’s vote paralleled the mood earlier this week in the House, as conservative Republicans voted in opposition to the measure in greater numbers. Many Republicans are steadfast in their refusal to support the legislation unless it includes their policy priorities — defunding President Obama’s health care law, eliminating support for Planned Parenthood and others.

“This is a bad omen,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) before the vote. The resistance from conservatives, he said, makes a long-term deal between leaders more difficult. “An intense ideological tail continues to wag the dog,” Schumer added.

The Senate voted 87-13 to approve the stop-gap measure, funding the government through April 8, while cutting $6 billion. Nine Republicans voted against the bill, up from the five who opposed a previous short-term measure this month. Four Democrats also opposed it, the same number as earlier.

Cuts will continue at $2 billion a week, the level preferred by the GOP but opposed by many Democrats. The legislation was designed to appeal to Democrats by making the reductions in programs and services already identified by Obama for termination.

At the same time, it was not lost on lawmakers that among the cuts was elimination of $17 million for the development group called the International Fund for Ireland — a move occurring on St. Patrick’s Day, as Obama and congressional leaders were welcoming the Irish prime minister to an annual lunch.

In supporting the temporary measure, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), argued that, coupled with the reductions in a previously-approved stop-gap measure, Congress would be cutting $10 billion in five weeks — an unusually swift level of reductions.

“All in all, a good day’s work,” Kyl said during the debate.

The votes this week have made it increasingly clear that the divisions within the GOP ranks will set the stage for the ongoing talks on a long-term solution.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was able to pass the bill in his chamber this week only with the help of Democratic votes – which Democrats interpret to mean that will have greater influence over the final package.

Republicans have said Democrats and the White House have failed to offer alternative spending plans in negotiations.

With the two sides $50 billion apart, a middle ground could look similar to the estimated $30 billion in cuts Republican leaders first proposed, before their tea party activists and freshman rank-and-file pressed for more.

I for one hope this is indeed where we end up. Anyone going into this thinking they are going to get everything they want out of it is unrealistic, to say the least.

But such a compromise appears far off.

Once President Obama signs the latest measure, both sides indicated the next step is reach a long-term resolution to fund the government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Neither side wants another stop-gap measure.

Republicans leaders acknowledge the growing dissent within their ranks would make it increasingly difficult to pass another stopgap bill.

Democrats also have said they do not want more temporary proposals, which they said are creating economic uncertainty and leaving federal agencies unable to fill contracts, initiate programs or properly function.

“This is no way to run the country,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

Amen.

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16 thoughts on “Punt. Pass. Fail. Our Congress Strikes Again.

  1. It is unseemly for the chief executive of our nation, President B.O., his Speaker of the House Granny Pelosi, and the democrat Representatives need the Republicans now to complete their incompetence. Everybody was so damned busy doing important stuff, they couldn’t complete a budget in 2010. Really? Nobody wanted to total the amount of money spent in 2010 & 2011! So here the country kicked out most incumbent do nothing politicians in the hope somebody knows how to run the government. The President can’t even get his NCAA picks right after spending most of his time researching the bracket pool. Anyway, the real howling will commence with the 2012 budget that will be presented by our House of Congress. That will be real fun!

    • “The President can’t even get his NCAA picks right after spending most of his time researching the bracket pool.” And exactly how does this come into the equation?

      I hold EVERYONE to blame, even what seems like your beloved GOP. They filibustered (or made a threat to) anything & everything so don’t think they played no part in this. As for the 2012 budget, we need a 2011 one first. The real howling will indeed begin if either side thinks it is going to get everything they want.

      If there was a true sweeping mandate as some of them like say there was, the Senate would have fallen too. If either side overreaches on things right now (look at Wisconsin, Michigan and Miami-Dade in Florida right now) then they are in for a rude awakening in ‘012.

  2. Beautiful dreamer! 2012 will be a wonderful year for the TEA lovers of the world. President B.O. will be the youngest retired President in our history, so he will have one distinction to be remembered.

    • Should have known you were a Teatard. You probably know as little about history as your poster child Michele Bachmann. How did you guys do in the election after the sweeping changes of 1994? Oh yeah, not so well.

      While we are at it, how did all of your Tea Party candidates in the Senate not named Rand Paul do? Oh yeah. Not so well. I know you like to call Rubio “yours”, but since his ass was being kicked around as a future GOP star as far back as 2006 that boat won’t float. But I also know that facts and information mean little to an idiot like you lol.

      You win the House, which is the least watched/regarded/understood part of Congress, the one that sees the most drastic changes on a regular basis, are utter failures in the Senate and claim victory. As many “tea party” candidates lost as won and other than Paul and Rubio it was ALL in the House.

      Once again, I know rational thought and factual based arguments aren’t the Tea Party strong suit so run along, wave your pocket constitution at some people, tune into Rush and know what your thoughts and positions are going to be for tomorrow =)

      As for the youngest retired President. He may very well be a one-term President…but Grover Cleveland was 51 when he left office. The same age Obama will be if he steps out in 2013.

      Additionally as for the President “not being able to pick a bracket” through two rounds he has missed three. Total. Ranking him 492 out of 1.5 million people on ESPN’s site. So way to get that wrong too.

      I know, those pesky little facts keep getting in the way.

    • Meanwhile you can throw a rock in a crowd and hit 491 people more qualified than any Tea Party candidate (take your pick: Bachmann, Palin, O’Donnell, Angle…the list goes on and on and on) using any actual benchmark worth using.

      Now run along and get ready for the rapture. I’m sure you are right there with Glenn Beck in believing it soon to be upon us.

      p.s. Good job deflecting and not addressing your factual shortcomings!!!

      • Oh come on, sensitive John and his fellow asshole neo-con congressional Fox news anchors could never pass a budget least their farce about ‘spending’ cuts be exposed. I’ve said it before and I’m getting ready to say it again: The entire debate about the budget has absolutely nothing to do with anybody, especially the citizens of this country, and everything to do with the republicans pandering to their base. The key to this game is to avoid having to talk about actual problems (jobs, Wall Street, poor people, jobs and jobs) until 2012 when they can blame everything bad that’s ever happened in the history of the world on the President.
        Our congress has evolved into nothing but a gigantic, very well funded, propaganda machine for both parties. As long as big business is running the country, I don’t see an end in sight. Year after year our elected officials talk about how ‘Joe the plumber’ is getting the short end of the stick while simultaneously subsidizing the wealthiest among us. Through our own shortsightedness (we do still get to vote [for now]) we have created a caste system in America to rival any in history.
        So, Hoboduke, I hope that all of your beautiful teabag dreams are realized so that one day, while you’re out shooting snow leopards in Yellowstone National Coal and Copper Mine, maybe, just maybe, real Americans will stand up and say ENOUGH!! I’ll be the one in the front of the crowd.

      • Yeah, this one is delusional. He thinks the Tea Party is more than it is. Simply put, it was a case of the GOP and it’s cronies like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers pouring tons of money into the thing and “hijacking America’s anger”. I know it. Others who have removed their head from their ass know it.

        Hell, one of the co-founders of the Tea Party knows it as he passionately stated in his letter, cleverly titled “To The Tea Party: Go Screw Yourself”, that you can find here: http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?singlepost=2222649

        Not that it matters to this misguided band of nitwits, they will keep watching run-of-the-mill, business-as-usual politicians like Rubio (seriously, how many times has this guy waffled on shit already?), Pawlenty, Romney (my buddies in Mass still adore how he is trying to distance himself from the fact that Obama used HIS health care plan that HE championed for his blueprint), Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (outsider huh? he spent 15 years as a lobbyist and that makes him a “non-establishment guy?) and others claim to be a new breed of politician as they just run along with the rest of the pack in DC.

        Good job. You got conned. Now run along and get back to answering that e-mail from the Crown Prince of Nigeria…you have a large cash prize to claim =) .

  3. Enjoyed your attempts at humor and sarcasm. George Soros is funding a bootcamp for liberal free thinkers. He funded it with the money he got from his manipulating currency markets that worsened the 2008 melt down. But what’s a few billion stolen from manipulating sovereign currency funds anyway?

    • Soros is indeed a scumbag. Just like Koch, you know, the guys whose entire family fortune started with the noble enterprise of building oil refineries for Joseph Stalin, Roves Crossroads GPS, Murdoch’s PR machine for the GOP (a.k.a “Fixed News”) etc…

      So way to go ignoring what I have been saying and just spewing from your “Rush Limbaugh Junior Brigade Handbook For Conservatives” and tossing out an anecdotal example of a liberal boogie man.

      I would strike you this deal in a New York minute:

      We toss Soros down a mineshaft if you do the same with every corporate shill who pumps money into your movement.

      But that won’t ever happen because your beloved Tea Party is as much a slave to corporate America as any other political party/movement is.

      • Ha, “liberal free thinkers”, the gall of these guys who support free thinkers! If you had any clue at all about your oft sighted founding fathers…

        I’ve attempted to have serious non-sarcastic debates with Teabaggers but most refuse to use facts. All I can do is mock the absurdity of your ,mostly, baseless arguments. You should be pissed that your movement was hijacked by the far right but your not. You just jumped right on the oh-I-didn’t-know-Sarah-Palin-was-a-libertarian-she’s-awesome bandwagon. It’s a shame really.

        You’re not seriously trying to blame liberals for the current state of the economy? Ronald Regan is laughing in his grave.

      • This would be the same Reagan btw that fails the Tea Party litmus test for being a “true conservative” (one those dipweeds actually named after him no less).

        The test says “President Reagan considered his friends those he agreed with 80 percent of the time. So it would deny funding to any Republican candidate who did not agree with 80 percent of ten Republican principles.”

        One, smaller government, reducing taxes and the deficit.

        Two, oppose health care reform.

        Three, oppose cap and trade.

        Four, oppose card check.

        Five, oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants.

        Six, support military recommendations like troop surges.

        Seven, contain Iran and North Korea.

        Eight, support Defense of Marriage Act.

        Nine, oppose health care rationing and federal funds for abortion.

        Ten, oppose gun control.

        This presents quite the dilemma for some of us who actually rely on those pesky little things called “facts” (I am sensing a theme here):

        Number one, Reagan expanded the government taxes and the deficit.

        Number five, he supported amnesty for illegal immigrants.

        Number six, he ignored the military recommendation to pull out of Beirut.

        Number seven, he sold weapons to Iran.

        Number eight, he opposed California’s anti-gay Prop 6, and hosted the first openly gay sleepover at the White House.

        Number ten, he signed a gun control law in California and supported the Brady Bill after he and his press secretary were shot.

        So he failed six out of ten.

  4. It’s good to count off the check list on all the programmed responses to independent thought. Don’t know why Ronald Reagan haunts the knee jerk socialists? Anyway, don’t keep digging up his corpse to slap around. It’s creepy.

    • Man, your ability to deflect and never reply to a single fact-based argument is the only “creepy” thing around here.

      And the check list for programmed thought is the product of your party assclown, so cry to them. Oh wait, they kick you out if you do that haha.

      Further showing your feeble intellect is the fact that by recounting his record as President on ten issues I am somehow “slapping his corpse around” in your eyes.

      So pointing out his positions is somehow insulting and degrading huh? Why is that? Because they don’t line up with yours?

      Man you truly are pathetic.

    • For the record, I’m not at all haunted by anything Regan did. Why is it somehow disrespectful to point out facts about his presidency? He’s dead so we can’t talk about him any more? What are you so afraid of? You know he can still be your hero even though his economic policies have sent America back about 100 years?

      • Something D – O – O economics… =)

        We are talking to a wall it seems. One that refuses to offer anything but hollow Tea Party talking points, ignores things like facts and is too ignorant to see that his movement is fueled by the same political operatives that have been behind GOP politics for the last 40 years or so.

        Kind of ironic he tosses out the “socialist” argument when his Tea Party is effectively running on Koch money via Americans For Prosperity & FreedomWorks (to name a couple out of the 57 known PACs they have set up since the early 80s).

        The Koch’s, of course, made their fortune in the 20’s and 30’s building oil refineries for Stalin.

        So he can just run along and support his “party” that got its seed money from a financial supporter of that oppressive socialist regime.

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