Congress' shilly-shallying on budget bills has become the dismal norm - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Congress' shilly-shallying on budget bills has become the dismal norm

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Posted: Sunday, October 3, 2004 4:29 pm | Updated: 5:36 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

There were no confetti, party hats or countdowns so you might have missed it, but the federal fiscal year ended at midnight Thursday. The new year started Friday, Oct. 1.

And once again the new year found Congress woefully behind in its work — as it always is nowadays. Both parties are guilty. The Democrats did it too when they were in charge, but the Republicans, the people who claim to be able to make the trains run on time, are especially bad.

By Oct. 1, Congress was supposed to have passed the 13 spending bills that fund the government for the coming year. It has passed exactly one. The leadership hopes to have passed another five by the time the lawmakers knock off next Friday to go home and run for re-election, but that would still leave more than half their work undone.

What the House and Senate did this past week, formally acknowledging they had blown yet another annual deadline, is pass a continuing resolution, a stopgap measure that will keep the government running at current levels of funding until Nov. 20.

If it can't get the rest of the bills passed then, Congress is likely to wrap all the remaining appropriations bills into one, huge omnibus spending bill — probably in excess of $300 billion — and pass that. But that process could take until January. It's what happened last year and the year before that. In fact, the last time Congress passed all its spending bills on time was 1995.

Also being shoved over into a lame duck session are votes that entail some political risk — on overtime, veterans' benefits, imported prescription drugs, travel to Cuba. While the House couldn't get around to dealing with those issues, it did find time for politically showy but pointless votes on repealing Washington's gun laws and outlawing gay marriage.

Paying to run the government was not the only place the clock ran out.

The six-year highway bill, which was supposed to have been renewed before Sept. 30, 2003, has still not passed. Congress extended the old bill until next May; it was the sixth such extension.

The 1996 welfare reform bill was supposed to have been reauthorized by Sept. 30, 2002. Congress still hasn't gotten around to it so the lawmakers extended the old bill until next March; it was the eighth time Congress has extended it.

Oh, yeah. One more thing: Happy new year.

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