The Ripon Forum

Volume 44, No. 3

Summer 2010 Issue

The Perfect Storm, Part III: While Congress Slept

By on October 21, 2014

Failure to pass a budget is a dereliction of duty

Where is the budget?

That’s the question every American should be asking. Congress is way past April, when the budget is supposed to be done, and the majority party has been afraid to bring the required budget to the floor. The majority leadership of this Congress is not doing something, and it’s running our country’s financial future into the ground.

In a speech on the House floor on June 22, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed that the House Democrats will not pass a budget this year. His speech was disappointing at best and irresponsible at worst. Doesn’t the Constitution demand that Congress exist to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises to pay the debts and provide for…general welfare of the United States”?

When did it become an option to just NOT pass a budget to help ensure the country’s financial welfare?

Granted, it’s not an easy task. In fact, it’s so hard that we find our country $13 trillion in debt. But that’s exactly why passing and sticking to a budget is more crucial now than ever before. Giving up because it’s hard is an example of the worst kind of leadership. Congress can’t just sneak by without passing a budget and not expect to feel the repercussions of such inaction for many years to come. If this is the standard by which Congress is choosing to do its business, then what basic but necessary duty will they next choose to flat out neglect?

Congress can’t just sneak by without passing a budget and not expect to feel the repercussions of such inaction for many years to come.

It’s not just a dereliction of duty. It’s a glaring example of Congress being asleep at the switch at the worst possible time for our Nation.

Congress needs to take a page from the hardworking families in this country who don’t have the option of giving up on their financial obligations and responsibilities. Individuals and families set a personal budget to keep their spending in check. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, it means we all need to make decisions about surviving with limited funds whether it be in our own lives or at the federal level as elected officials. We can’t keep printing money. Instead, we need to learn to keep spending in check and the first step is to set a budget.

If a family spends more money on books per month than movies, it would be reasonable to say that reading is more of a priority to that family than movies. The act of making choices through a budget forces families and individuals to flesh out priorities. The same should happen for Congress. Congress needs to perform the basic task of budgeting to make sure our priorities aren’t off kilter and that our budget is meeting the country’s needs in the most efficient way possible.

As an accountant, failing to budget simply makes my head spin. But to add insult to injury, in the past few years after Congress has actually passed a budget, they have then failed to have a meaningful discussion on the appropriations bills that follow the budget and that actually specify where money should go. Instead of allowing amendments and multiple votes on appropriations bills, the majority would lump most of the massive appropriations bills into one mega bill at the end of the year without allowing an opportunity to makes changes. These large bills are called omnibus bills. They are a bad way of legislating and make for faulty laws.

…to add insult to injury, in the past few years after Congress has actually passed a budget, they have then failed to have a meaningful discussion on the appropriations bills that follow the budget and that actually specify where money should go.

But what is the point of having a budget if there are ways to skirt around the spending limits?

Not surprisingly, Congress has found a myriad of ways to waive budget rules and keep on spending. One of the favorite ways of doing this is by labeling all sorts of spending as “emergency spending,” which increases the debt at rapid levels.

The Senate recently considered a $59 billion “emergency” supplemental appropriations bill. Known as H.R. 4899, the bill included money for some very real emergencies. But it also included millions of dollars in non-emergency funds. However, since it was labeled as an “emergency” by some of my colleagues, they thought it was okay to add to the deficit. I don’t buy it – especially since the kicker is a lot of that cost comes up year after year and can easily be planned for. Years of budget gimmicks like this and wasteful spending have brought us to the point we are now – with an out-of-control debt.

It took around 200 years for the country’s debt to reach $1 trillion and eight years to reach $3.4 trillion in 2009. Yet in the past 16 months, the national debt has risen to $13 trillion. That’s $42,000 per person in America. So far this year, 40 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government is borrowed. Something has to give. There are steps that must be taken to get this country on the right path.

This Congress needs to grab this responsibility by the horns and not let inaction be its legacy.

It starts with setting and sticking to a budget that cuts funding followed by a serious discussion of appropriations bills with adequate time to look over and debate them. Reforms of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlement programs should be close behind. It all starts with a budget.

This Congress needs to grab this responsibility by the horns and not let inaction be its legacy. There’s another quote from the past that fits our present situation – all that it takes for bad things to happen is for good men to do nothing.
Neglecting to pass a budget is doing nothing.RF

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) is the Senate’s only accountant by profession. He is a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

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