BY TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE – There you have it. For the first time in 17 years, Congress failed to provide funding to keep all of the government running. So now you have two classes of government service, and two classes of employees: “essential” and “non-essential.” If you run a national park, you aren’t essential. If you work in a government lab, you might be non-essential. Even a staffer in a member of congress office can get the non-essential tag.
The essential/non-essential sorting doesn’t really make much sense, but then again a government shutdown doesn’t either. Individual agencies make the determination of whether a function is essential. If you work at an agency funded by fees, like the patent office, everyone keeps working until the fee income is exhausted. In some offices, one employee is arbitrarily singled out to keep the lights on while the rest are sent home. It’s worth noting that these people are not paid and may never get paid. Even the ones working may have their paycheck deferred until Congress does its job.
And that is what this is all about. Congress doing its constitutionally-mandated job. As much as the budget debacle gets wrapped up in Obamacare and repealing or defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act law that is being implemented even as the shutdown continues, we wouldn’t be at this point if Congress did its job over the last several months. Both the House and the Senate adopted their budgets – topline dollar amounts – in March. That means they had six months to write, debate, conference, and pass the dozen spending bills that fund government. The House Appropriations Committee wrote ten and passed four on the floor. But when the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations, 2014 or “THUD,” landed with a thud on the House floor, the House majority couldn’t round up the votes and pulled the bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee wrote eleven bills. But when they brought their version of THUD to the floor, they failed as well and never tried to bring up another bill. Out of a dozen bills required, the Senate adopted precisely zero. Neither the House nor the Senate even attempted to pass a spending bill in all of September. It was legislative gross negligence.
And after a flurry of bills that were intended to convince the public that they are serious about avoiding an October 1 shutdown at the start fiscal year 2014, budgetary trench warfare between the House Republicans and Senate Democrats has returned. The House is planning to be in session over the weekend to show they are serious. If they were serious they would have worked the rest of the year.
The latest tactic is to pass rifle shot single issue spending bills. Instead of broad appropriations bills that fund several agencies, the House has adopted narrow bills to fund the military and those supporting war operations, Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Park Service, and National Institute of Health. This weekend it might be the National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as a few others. Cherry picking popular agencies and programs to re-open government is a cynical ploy and doesn’t make any sense.
Instead of hostage taking and tactics to try to gain the upper hand in the court of public opinion, lawmakers need to simply do their job. The strangest thing about this whole affair is that the House and Senate agree on the topline budget number for a short term continuing resolution to fund government until a long term solution is agreed upon.
The debt limit – the statutory limit on how much the Treasury can borrow – is fast approaching. Treasury Secretary Lew has indicated that it will be reached October 17. As bad as a shutdown is, a default would be economically catastrophic. Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution, deal with the debt limit, and responsibly finish fiscal year 2014 appropriations, so they can start work on the fiscal year 2015 budget on time. It’s time for the finger pointing and cacophony of criticism to stop. Instead of a shutdown, Congress needs to shut up and do its job.