It’s been almost three years since the Democrat-controlled Senate passed an actual budget. The result has been a series of ad hoc, temporary funding measures that are often exempt from the rules and restrictions of the formal budget process. Congress must repeatedly renew these short-term measures to avert a government shutdown, creating a great deal of uncertainty.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has already proposed legislation to address the problem by making it much harder to pass such spending bills without a budget in place. New legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) and Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) would go one step further. The Washington Post reports:
This is how badly broken Congress’s budget process has become: A Democrat and a Republican in the Senate have jointly proposed the radical idea that if Congress can’t come up with a budget by April 15 — a legal deadline now routinely blown — the national legislature would simply shut down.
No other bills would be considered. No post offices named, no judges confirmed. Congress wouldn’t even be able to abandon Washington and go home on recess.
“It’d be a pretty good incentive to get things done,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
I fail to see what is so “radical” about enforcing a rule that says Congress must produce a budget. Rather, the fact that the government is considering passing legislation to do so is a sad commentary on our political process. Democrats and media critics who routinely blame Republicans for “threatening to shut down the government” conveniently fail to mention that if Senate Democrats had simply done their jobs over the past couple of years, then we wouldn’t be faced with such a haphazard process. Not only have Senate Democrats failed to pass a budget in more than 900 days, but as part of the recent debt-ceiling deal, they conveniently exempted themselves from having to so for the next two years.
The most recent temporary funding measure passed by Congress extends funding through Nov. 18. Ideally, the House and Senate would be able to agree on a long-term measure that funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year (through September 2012). That doesn’t seem likely, as Democrats will inevitably insist on additional stimulus funding fueled by tax increases, and Republicans will say no. Instead, another contentious debate is likely and the prospect of a government shutdown may return to the forefront of the political debate in Washington.
House Republicans have done their jobs and passed a budget. Senate Democrats shouldn’t be allowed to get away with not doing theirs, even if it means passing legislation to force them to.