Confront federal spending now

  • Friday, October 11, 2013

As I write, we are now over a week into this government shutdown and a quick resolution is not in sight. Most of us would like to see one, but each day that passes brings us closer to the debt ceiling, yet another Washington issue that needs resolving. In deciding how we fix these two storms at the Capitol, I’d ask you consider two things.

First, we could pass a so called “clean” Continuing Resolution tomorrow, but without resolving the underlying budget issue we will find ourselves right back in the current impasse in a few weeks.

Any of the Continuing Resolutions being offered by both Republicans and Democrats take us to just mid-November or mid-December, and to fix this larger financial log-jam there has to be resolution of where the House, Senate and White House are on spending. The same is true for a “clean” debt ceiling raise, which would raise the limit on our credit card, but would do nothing to address the $17 trillion we already owe, or the way government spending continues to grow. According to Congressional Budget Office, in just 12 years there will only be enough money for interest and entitlement spending – and no other federal government spending - without borrowing, cutting or taxing significantly more. One can argue about the tactics and timing of this particular debate – the nexus here was Republicans’ question on whether or not we can afford another $1 trillion dollar entitlement – but it underscores the degree to which we have to have this debate as a society. Twelve years away is coming fast.

In many ways we are here because there has been an absolute breakdown of the funding process in Washington. In stark contrast to when I left Congress thirteen years ago, what was once an annual debate on twelve federal spending categories, has devolved to funding government by so-called Continuing Resolution. In bulk and without debate or amendment government winds up simply funded at last year’s levels, and among other things this makes the government we do have less effective because the planning process becomes near impossible for agencies. So in some form or another we need to get our arms around spending in Washington, and if not now, most folks ask me - then when? Do pressures to limit spending somehow get better in another month or two?

Second, while I’m hardly a defender of process in Washington, the way things have been done offer some insight into how they will next be done in the Capital city. Over the last 35 years there have been 53 debt limit increases, and 17 government shut downs. Except in a handful of years where debt increases were automatic and therefore not debated, in every other instance they have been subject to negotiation. Whether there were Democratic or Republican presidents, Senates, or Houses – every time there was negotiation. But the President in this instance is joined by Harry Reid in saying there can be no negotiation. Isn’t that the American way? We have differences, and lots of them…but we sit down and have managed to iron them out for over 200 years.

This change in perceived executive branch authority is particularly important given the Constitutional questions that are raised when the President decides unilaterally how his own law will be enforced and enacted. This is also an American first given the founding fathers charged the executive branch with enactment of the whole law – never parts of it at their discretion.

Many friends in Summerville tell me newly claimed Presidential authority and Washington spending are issues worth confronting now.

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