Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Government Shutdown is a Government Failure

Government funding shouldn't be treated as a hostage negotiation.

The extraordinary level of dysfunction on Capitol Hill is on display once again. Congress has just days to act before a government shutdown takes place. It never should have come to this; Congress had far too much time to agree on a budget for their backs to now be against the wall.

The federal government's fiscal year -- its accounting period -- runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the following year. So, fiscal 2018 began on Oct. 1, 2017.

Passing an annual budget is the fundamental job of Congress. There are twelve standard appropriations bills that fund the federal government's discretionary programs each fiscal year. They are supposed to be enacted into law by Oct. 1.

Yet, 3 1/2 months into this fiscal year, Congress has failed to pass a budget... again.

When Congress and the president fail to agree on and pass appropriations bills, a continuing resolution must instead be passed. This has already been done three times since Oct. 1. Congress must continually turn to these stopgap measures because they can’t even agree on their basic function — how to fund the government.

Without passing a budget or, at the least, another continuing resolution, the federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, January 19.

The government has only shut down once in this century, in 2013. Prior to that, the last shutdown was from Dec. 1995 to Jan. 1996.

Republicans want to lift spending caps on defense, while Democrats want to lift the caps for domestic programs. Those caps are the remnants of the 2013 sequester, which was supposed to enact some constraints on federal spending. It would trigger an automatic $6 billion in cuts this fiscal year. But no one in Congress truly wants to cut spending; they just want to increase it.

That’s on top of the fact that the new GOP tax law will increase the nation’s debt by more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade, according to an analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional scorekeeper. It is wildly hypocritical for Republicans to have consistently sounded alarms about deficits in recent years and then vote for their deficit-inducing tax proposal.

The federal government is already more than $20 trillion in debt. Yet, no one seems to care in the slightest.

Republicans say they will have to pass another continuing resolution, which would probably last until mid-February, because there is no budget deal currently in place. Even if there was, they wouldn’t have enough time to draft a bill.

This is government at its most dysfunctional. Congress can’t even perform its most basic duty. Republicans love to complain about “unelected bureaucrats” in government, but they are not the problem; the elected bureaucrats are.

It cannot be overlooked that Republicans currently control the White House, the Senate and the House. The government has never been shut down when it is controlled by one party. Such a shutdown would be unprecedented and the Republicans surely know that.

In May, 2015, the GOP-led Congress passed a full budget for the first time in six years. In other words, this kind of obstinance and narrow-mindedness has a long history in the capitol.

The Senate did not pass a budget resolution for FY2011, FY2012, or FY2013 and it passed the FY2014 budget resolution on March 23, 2013, 23 days before the April 15 deadline set by the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013. Yes, it took the threat of temporary salary restrictions to get Congress to act.

Government funding now seems to be tied to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which affects nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants illegally brought to the US, as children, by their parents. It’s fair to say that these people were simply along for the ride and are living with the consequences of their parent’s actions.

No matter your view on DACA, government funding should not be tied to this or any other non-spending issue. If Congress is going to engage in customary horse trading, as it has for hundreds of years, it should pertain only to budget/spending matters. Bi-partisan legislation regarding the so-called “dreamers” should be an entirely separate proceeding.

The cost of another government shutdown would be significant.

In December, S&P Global analysts said a shutdown would cost the economy about $6.5 billion per week. S&P predicts a shutdown would increase the deficit because of the added cost required to stop and start federal programs. In essence, it is more expensive to shut the doors of government than to keep them open.

The 2013 shutdown cost $24 billion in lost economic output, or 0.6 percent of projected annualized GDP growth, according to the Standard and Poor’s ratings agency. Similarly, Moody’s Analytics estimated the impact at $23 billion.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated that during that shutdown, the economy created 120,000 fewer private-sector jobs than it otherwise might have that October.

In other words, another shutdown would have real and potentially lasting effects.

Yet, here we are... again. The only thing standing between yet another shutdown is yet another continuing resolution, which would temporarily keep the government operating.

A continuing resolution basically keeps government agencies funded at the same level as the previous year, even if the needs of a given agency have changed. Under this arrangement, Congress cannot reduce or eliminate programs that have run their course.

Yet, the federal government has been operating under continuing resolutions more than one-third of the time for the past nine years.

This is no way to run a government; it is terribly inefficient. Agencies have no certainty about how much money they’ll have.

Congress seems to enjoy this game of brinksmanship, but there are enormous expenses associated with their foolishness. Another shutdown could cost tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs.

Congress proved that it never cared about these things in the past and it’s unlikely that they care about them now.

Congress only cares about the rich donors who put them, and keep them, in office.