Let’s Make Congress Work Again
In contrast to our current economic rebound, the United States debt is past the tipping point of a financial crisis. This should not come as a surprise.
Even though we are five months into the 2018 fiscal year, Congress has not funded the federal government for this year. Even after this week, Washington still may not get the job done.
Our national debt is over $20 trillion. We are on track to add another $10 trillion of debt over the next decade. The single biggest cause of our debt crisis is the funding mechanism used by Congress. It does not work, and Congress cannot fulfill its Constitutional obligations.
Enacted in 1974, the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, has only worked four times in 44 years. Since then, Washington has resorted to over 180 continuing resolutions and 19 government shutdowns, including one last month.
Why does this keep happening? The budget process has completely broken down. It will never work as designed and it needs to be changed.
Today, the Congressional budget process consists of three steps: the budget, authorizations, and appropriations. However, the budget resolution is not a law.
Therefore, the majority party uses the budget as a political statement about how the government should spend its money. The minority party then revolts during the authorizations and appropriations processes. As a result, hundreds of billions in expired authorizations still received funding.
Ultimately, Congress is supposed to pass 12 appropriations bills each year, but its average over the last 44 years is an embarrassing 2.5 annually. This grinds Congress to a halt.
Additionally, the current budget process only deals with 25 percent of the $4 trillion the federal government spends. This is primarily for the military, VA, and other discretionary domestic programs. The other 75 percent is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal employee pensions, and interest on the national debt.
We have seen Washington lurch from one deadline to the next instead of actually debating policy changes and setting spending levels. What’s worse, lawmakers don’t bear the brunt of these missed deadlines. Instead, the consequences are felt by those who rely on government functions—including our women and men in the military.
Right now, we are funding the federal government on borrowed time with a continuing resolution that expires this Friday. Unless Congress passes another continuing resolution or spending package by then, we may face a similar fate as last month.
Before shutting the government down, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) himself said shutdowns are “governmental chaos.” We need more certainty, not more chaos coming from Washington.
The good news is there is a growing realization from both parties that the current budget process is not working and it must be fixed.
Last year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and I introduced an amendment acknowledging that the budget process is broken. It got a vote, and the entire United States Senate agreed.
The voices are getting louder. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), another business guy in the United States Senate, said, “it’s impossible for the process we have today to work.”
Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently said, “Enough is enough. We cannot continue to run a $4 trillion government on a month-to-month basis. We need an annual budget.”
The time to act is now. Let’s make Congress work again. Let’s change the failed funding process so Washington can deal with our national debt once and for all.