From the Editor: Here we go again
February 6, 2018
It hardly seems possible, but Congress is yet again skating dangerously close to yet another deadline to pass yet another spending bill or face yet another government shutdown.
The federal spending bill Congress passed only two weeks ago — ending a wholly unnecessary, three-day government shutdown — expires at midnight Thursday, and members of Congress have made no real progress toward reaching a permanent funding deal or tackling the immigration issue — the main sticking points that brought them to a shutdown in the first place.
The federal budgeting process is admittedly complicated, far too complicated to explore completely here, but essentially, it works — or, rather, is supposed to work — like this.
• In February of each year, the president submits a budget request to Congress for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins the following Oct. 1. This request is based upon the individual budget requests of 12 governmental agencies.
• After the president submits his or her budget request, the House and Senate Committees on the Budget each write and vote on their own budget resolutions.
• The Appropriations Committees in both houses of Congress determine the precise levels of allowed spending for all discretionary programs This process is known as "markup."
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• Following markup, the full House and Senate debate and vote on the 12 separate appropriations bills, one from each of the 12 subcommittees.
• Once these appropriations bills are approved by the House and Senate, the president either signs — or vetoes — each individual bill. Once the president has signed all 12, the budget process is complete.
That's how it's supposed to work; unfortunately, it's seldom that straightforward.
If Congress cannot reach agreement on the 12 appropriations bills by the Oct. 1 deadline, one of a few things might happen.
• Congress might pass what is known as an omnibus bill — a single bill that includes all 12 funding areas.
• Congress might pass what is known as a continuing resolution — as it has done four times since the Oct. 1, 2017, deadline. Continuing resolutions provide temporary funding for federal agencies until new appropriations bills can be approved and signed into law.
• If Congress fails to pass an omnibus bill or a continuing resolution, a government shutdown can result, as was the case in late January.
Given the lessons our elected federal representatives should have learned following January's shutdown, it might be reasonable to think that lawmakers would have attacked the immigration and spending debates with renewed vigor and purpose. It might even be reasonable to hope that the caucuses of both parties would come together in a renewed sense of bipartisan cooperation to ensure another shutdown wouldn't be happening anytime soon and that they were serving the needs of their constituents.
Sadly, however, I've found that reasonable expectations and Washington politics seldom see common ground.
Rather than hitting the ground running and resolving themselves to work out a solution to the benefit of all Americans, lawmakers have instead spent the majority of weekdays since the shutdown out of Washington, either in their home districts or on annual party retreats.
Republicans traveled to Greenbrier resort in West Virginia last week, and Democrats were scheduled to convene in Cambridge, Maryland, for three days beginning today.
And all the while, the deadline is ticking ever nearer.
It's possible a deal will be reached, perhaps even before you read this column, but even if it is, why all the drama? Should we be forced to wonder how long essential services will be funded for no other reason than the people we elected, and to whom we pay exorbitant salaries — salaries they continue to draw, shutdown or no —would rather sling mud balls at the opposing party than work together for the betterment of the country they serve?
This, to my thinking, is a big part of the reason so many Americans have had it up to their collarbones with Washington politics, and it might go a long way toward explaining Congress' dismal approval rating, which, as of Jan. 30, stood at a towering 16.2 percent.
Think about that — of every 100 Americans, about 74 of them have major problems with the job Congress is doing, and I don't mind telling you that I'm solidly among those 74.
With midterm elections looming in November, I think it's time the American people send a clear message to their elected Washington representatives: Do your job, or we'll find someone else who will.
Jim Patterson is editor of the Craig Press. Contact him at jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com or 970-875-1790.