This month’s column will blend science and art.
Science explains things using observation, formulas and logic. Art is different. Art is intuitive. Art uses gut feelings and inference. It is not always logical.
Life is comprised of both art and science when we try to explain things, and that is why I will use both to try to explain what Congress is up to.
Let’s start with science.
Sir Isaac Newton proposed three laws of motion in 1665. The laws of motion explain the movement of physical objects on Earth. I found these non-technical versions of the laws on NASA’s website:
Law 1. If an object is not moving, it will not start moving by itself. If an object is moving, it will not stop or change direction unless something pushes it. This is also called “inertia.”
Law 2. Objects will move farther and faster when they are pushed harder.
Law 3. When an object is pushed in one direction, there is always a resistance of the same size in the opposite direction.
What does this have to do with the United States Congress? This is where art comes in.
Metaphorically, the actions of Congress sometimes follow the laws of motion. For instance, right now there is “inertia” in Congress on funding the government.
Eleven out of 12 appropriations bills were not finished by Oct. 1, 2016, when the new fiscal year started. To avoid a shutdown, Congress passed a continuing resolution which lets things go on like they were last year, until someone pushes to pass the new funding bills. They set a deadline of April 28, 2017.
As I write this column in early April, Congress has departed Washington, D.C., to spend two weeks in their states and districts.
When they return (the week you are reading this), they will face the fact that at midnight on April 28, the government will partially shut down unless they can act.
Congress is depending on Law 2. They plan to push real hard when they get back to D.C. to move the spending bills quickly. They will only have four legislative days to pass them.
Unfortunately, they will also have to deal with Law 3.
If the Republicans push hard to pass the spending bills, but they also throw in policy riders that defund Planned Parenthood or fund a border wall, the Democrats will push back just as hard.
The spending bills will come to rest, and it will take an external force to get them moving again before the government shuts down.
So here are the five options for Congress:
1) Pass an omnibus appropriations bill that wraps together the 11 remaining spending bills for fiscal year 2017 (FY17);
2) Pass a “cromnibus” bill, which provides new appropriations for the less controversial bills like defense, but also includes a continuing resolution for the bills they can’t agree on;
3) Pass a short-term continuing resolution, perhaps until just before the Memorial Day recess to give themselves more time to work out a solution;
4) Pass a full-year continuing resolution which keeps appropriations at the level of FY16; or
5) Stay in gridlock, leading to a partial government shutdown until Congress can do one of the first four options.
My crystal ball, and some rumors from professional staff on Capitol Hill, lead me to predict that Option 3 is most likely, while Option 2 is still possible and much more desirable.
And even though members of Congress are saying that there is no way they want a government shutdown, Option 5 is still the wildcard pick if you believe that Congress tends to follow Newton’s first law of motion.
Science can explain many things in life. But it takes art to explain why Congress is unable to discharge its constitutional responsibility to fund the government.
Congress should not abdicate its responsibility. If Congress “kicks the can down the road” by simply extending the continuing resolution for the rest of the year, it would be in Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s words, “professional malpractice.”
Congress should aspire to do better than that. Congress must stop the gridlock and do what is right for the country – pass the FY17 appropriations bills so that our military has the resources it needs to defend America.
See you on the high ground.