01.25.2012 2

1000 Days of Dysfunction

Caricature of Harry ReidBy Howard Rich — When U.S. President Barack Obama strides into the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives this week to deliver his fourth State of the Union address, it will mark exactly 1,000 days since the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate has passed a budget.

The last time the Senate passed a budget was April 29, 2009 – three months after Obama was sworn into office. Since then the federal government has spent $9.4 trillion – including $4.1 trillion in money it didn’t have (and thus had to borrow from future generations of taxpayers). As a result the U.S. debt has soared from $11.1 to $15.2 trillion over the past 1,000 days – and is projected to climb to $16.4 trillion by the end of 2012.

Does this sound like responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources to you?

In fairness to the dysfunctional Senate there is plenty of budgetary blame to go around, though. In 2010, for example, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a budget for the first time in 36 years – neglecting to perform what their own Majority Leader once referred to as “the most basic function of governing.”

Why didn’t the House pass a spending plan that year? The same reason the Senate refuses to do so today – sheer spinelessness.

“No one wants to spell out what they would do given that the choices are humongous deficits or tough policy choices, all in an incredibly tense election year,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said two years ago. “The budget never really had a chance.”

Another reason? In 2010 House leaders were too busy concocting procedural loopholes to force Obamacare down our throats, creating yet another costly long-term obligation at a time when taxpayers can’t afford to pay for government’s existing entitlement behemoths. And while Republicans in Congress unanimously opposed Obamacare – it’s worth noting that many of the GOP’s loudest critics previously supported President George W. Bush’s ill-conceived prescription drug benefit, part of a dramatic ramp-up in federal spending that took place under the guise of “compassionate conservatism.”

And while the Republican-controlled U.S. House did pass a budget in 2011, its leaders in both chambers have been far too eager to accommodate Democrats in reaching short-term spending “compromises.”

Regardless of which chamber or party is responsible for the dysfunction, though, failing to pass an annual appropriations bill is inexcusable fiscal policy.

When government is funded in monthly or bi-monthly fits and starts (called “continuing resolutions”) the very worst in Washington spending habits are perpetuated. Meanwhile desperately-needed spending reforms are ignored. The result is a budgetary climate in which short-term deals aimed at averting immediate political consequences take precedence over a long-overdue reprioritization of core government functions.

Failing to pass an annual budget puts politicians’ desire to approve high-time spending on steroids – causing them to “kick the can down the road” even faster than usual, resulting in bad decisions, bigger deficits and more debt.

Six years ago, then-U.S. Senator Obama had some harsh words for Republicans on this very subject.

“America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership,” Obama correctly observed at the time.

Sadly, both our debt and Washington’s “failure of leadership” have assumed truly frightening dimensions under his watch – with disastrous consequences for our nation.

Despite the unprecedented barrage of new government spending over the last 1,000 days, a record 146.4 million Americans are now classified as poor or low income – including 13 million Americans who are currently unemployed. A record 46 million Americans are on food stamps, and 22 percent of our nation’s children are living in poverty.

Against such a backdrop, it is Washington’s responsibility to acknowledge the failure of its current approach to budgeting and embark on a path that reverses our current course and puts the private sector in charge of promoting prosperity. Maintaining the status quo in Washington with respect to the budget will not only add explosive power to a ticking fiscal time bomb, it will perpetuate the descent of our nation into third world status.

The author is chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

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