As the ball dropped on fiscal year 2010, Congress passed a stop gap funding measure to keep the government’s lights on until December 3rd. The Continuing Resolution (CR) is only ten pages long and, aside from a few exceptions, funds government at last year’s level. By all accounts it’s pretty clean and straightforward.

So where do they go from here?

Peering into the crystal ball, we see a few ways forward, but it all depends on what happens a month before the CR expires – election day.

After the election, Congress will return for a “lame duck” session. The newly elected won’t get sworn in until January, so until then, those retiring or defeated will still be members of Congress.

Even in the best of years, little – if anything – gets done in a lame duck. Aside from a few non-controversial measures, the only thing Congress may take up will be the FY2011 spending bills (none of which have been completed), the Bush-era tax cuts and a package of disparate tax provisions known as extenders.

Or not.

The only thing Congress must do is something – even another CR – with the budget by December 3rd.    Considering the potential for a new majority in one or both chambers, this lame duck could be messier than most.

In 2006, the Democrats won control of both the House and Senate. The lame duck Republican majority had only passed two of the twelve spending bills, but decided to kick the can down the road, leaving a pile of bills to be sorted out. Not knowing their annual budgets, agencies were paralyzed for nearly half the year. Finally, Congress adopted a year-long CR, funding government at the previous year’s level. A messy, inefficient, and quite frankly irresponsible action by the outgoing majority. But possibly what we are again facing.

Most pundits think the Republicans will take at least the House and maybe the Senate. If just the House flips, it is unclear how Congress will go forward. Retiring House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) excoriated the Republicans for what they did in 2006. But will he act the same in 2010? Will the Republicans demand their mark on the spending bills or would they rather have a clean slate and start with FY2011? It’s hard to see a new Republican majority wanting their first major act to be passing more than a trillion in spending. And if they were to take knives to the     unfinished bills, would a (presumably Democratic majority) Senate cooperate?

At this point, it seems Congress will attempt an omnibus of all the bills but likely fall short; settling on a couple popular bills like Defense and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs or punting with another CR.

If both chambers flip, it is hard to see anything but a CR into the New Year and possibly a yearlong one after that.

And if Democrats retain control of both chambers, it’s a good bet they’ll move an omnibus and call it a day.

As Congress is quick to point out, our Constitution gives them power of the purse. But this budgetary mess reinforces another point – what good is a power if you don’t use it? Congress needs to lead and the budgetary logjams of the last several years need to be resolved. Not having a federal budget until half-way through the fiscal year is irresponsible. And simply passing a year-long Continuing Resolution penalizes agencies that deserve a bump and     rewards those that should be cut.

A new Congress should not have to take care of the last Congress’ mess as its first order of business. When the 111th Congress meets for the last time in December, they should finish their job and give the 112th Congress a clean slate to do theirs.

Submitted by Taxpayers for Common Sense

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