The president's popularity is wavering, the federal budget is hemorrhaging red ink, an election has re-seated the U.S. House of Representatives with the majority now in the other party's hands, and the government is being threatened with a shutdown.
This sounds like some headlines taken from today's newspaper, doesn't it?
But they are not describing 2010. Instead, the statements are detailing 1995 and the stalemate between then-president Bill Clinton and the House Republicans led by Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Republicans had swept to power with their Contract with America in 1994, including a promise to control spending. Republicans wanted cuts in specific areas which Clinton refused to consider. When October 1 rolled around, the White House and Congress had still not agreed upon a budget so the government was kept open with a continuing resolution.
Weeks went by with most of the negotiating taking place in the newspapers and still no agreement was reached. On November 14, non-essential services of the federal government were shut down. On November 19, another continuing resolution was agreed upon and the lights came back on in government buildings.
But there was still no agreement. On December 16, the resolution expired and the federal government shut down again. This time it stayed closed until January 6 when a budget was agreed to - four months after the previous year's ran out.
Earlier this week, an omnibus spending bill came out of the Senate. This 1,924-page monstrosity needs to be passed by Saturday or the federal government will run out of money and non-essential services will be closed. At issue are over 6,000 earmarked projects totaling $10 billion which will be sent to specific programs.
We have several issues with the omnibus spending bill (which by the way should have originated in the House since all spending bills are required to come from the House).
This 1,924-page tome was not written overnight. In fact, it was not written over a few days or weeks. This would have needed to be prepared quite some time ago which begs the question when it was actually completed. Was it held back until after the election and until Congress would have their backs against the wall at the end of the session?
The results of the recent election were predicated primarily on the health - or lack thereof - of the U.S. economy as well as government spending and the deficit. This proposed budget - which would run until October 1 of next year - does nothing but add to that debt. Many of the incoming representatives and senators ran on platforms of cutting back on spending and fixing the deficit.
Many of them also ran with the promise to not pass legislation with earmarks attached. Now, we will be the first to admit that $10 billion - a lot of money by anyone's standards - is just a drop in the bucket in a $1.3 trillion budget. In fact, it is only a seven-tenths of one percent (.7%) drop in the bucket. In other words, less than one penny out of every dollar.
But we see that pittance as part of the systematic problem of the federal government. Legislators have been saying for months they understand the American people's concern over the deficit and President Obama created a commission to propose ways to get the red ink under control.
If the legislators can not find a way to cut out .7%, then how are they going to have the guts to make the tough choices when it comes to limiting spending on entitlement programs?
We believe Congress should vote down the budget as proposed and either pass a continuing resolution to let the incoming representatives handle the budget or propose one at the 2008 spending levels. And if they can not pass anything, let the government shut down.
The last time that happened the country ended up with budget surpluses.