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AUSA to Congress: Fund government, provide for common defense

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The following is a prediction for how this year will play out in Washington, D.C.  

Members of Congress will spend June and the first part of July trying to pass as many of the 12 appropriations bills as they can before the process breaks down.  

They will not pass all 12 bills.   

Next, they will leave town from mid-July through early September.  

This year’s summer recess is extra-long to accommodate the two presidential nominating conventions.  

The Republicans will hold theirs in Cleveland, Ohio, from July 18-21, and the Democrats will hold theirs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from July 25-28.  

When the Representatives and Senators return to Washington after Labor Day, they will only have 18 legislative days left to move the remaining appropriations bills before the fiscal year ends on Oct. 1.  

The most likely outcome is that they will pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open.  

Although the possibility of a government shutdown does exist, it is not in the interest of either party for that to occur the month before Election Day.  

The first CR will likely extend through October and well into November, running out probably just before Thanksgiving, to get the process past Election Day.  

However, when the “lame duck” Congress returns after the election, there will not be enough time to complete its work, and so it will have to pass another CR.

There is a good chance the second CR will last until just before Christmas, and then Congress will pass an omnibus appropriations bill that consolidates all the remaining bills into one.  

If you have been following Washington and Congress for the last decade, this should be an all too familiar scenario.  

Why can’t Congress get its work done and fund the government on time?  

One reason is the high level of partisanship that has grown in Congress since the early 1990’s. The two parties have been pulled away from the middle ground and toward their extremes.  

The primary process has rewarded partisans and ended the political careers of centrists, partially because those who take the time to vote in primaries tend to be more passionate about party activism.  

Another possible reason Congress continually fails to fund the government by the end of the fiscal year is that the elimination of earmarks from the appropriations process removed the lubrication in the gears that used to keep the bills moving.  

When earmarks were allowed, if a bill contained a lucrative project for your district, you voted for the bill to show your constituents you could deliver, even if you didn’t like the rest of the spending bill.  

Deals and compromises could be made.

Now, without earmarks, there is no incentive to compromise and find win-win deals.  

Ideologues dig in their heels on both sides of the aisle, and the process grinds to a halt.  Every. Single. Year. 

Earmarks were criticized as wasteful spending.  However, how much federal money is wasted by the inefficient continuing resolution process?  

Each year, agencies go for months not knowing how much their budget will be, businesses can’t move forward on contracts, bookings get pushed into the next year, investments are delayed and programs stretched out.  

All of these inefficiencies cost money, both for the government and the private sector.  

In addition, the uncertainty impacts morale and lowers trust in the government’s ability to function.  That isn’t good for the internal American audience, but it is also dangerous to show our adversaries that our democracy is struggling to perform the most basic functions. 

Another reason the earmark ban should be reconsidered is that our Representatives and Senators have local knowledge of what their district and state needs.  

They hold town halls and meet with constituents on a regular basis to gain that knowledge. Our Congress should be empowered to deliver local jobs and infrastructure projects.  
In the current environment, they are challenged to even get a post office named.

It is time to look for ways to help Congress regain functionality.  

We vote for members to represent us and get something done in Washington.  Most members work extremely hard and have the best intentions to serve their district, state and country.

But the system is breaking down, and governance is suffering.  

We need to demand changes so that Congress can do the most fundamental tasks: to fund the government and provide for the common defense.