As the dust settles, it’s important to keep in mind the real reason the shutdown happened. It’s not because Republicans wanted to hold children’s health insurance hostage or the Democrats stink at bargaining or the President has the attention span of a toddler on a sugar high.
It’s because Congress is stupid. Even worse, they think we’re stupid too.
The bill that failed on Friday and finally passed today wasn’t really a budget, but something called a “continuing resolution.” To understand what that is, and how screwed up Congress really is, let’s take a moment and talk about the federal budget process.
The federal government spends our money in two categories: mandatory spending and discretionary spending.
Mandatory spending is the spending that is enacted by law and can continue without a specific appropriations bill. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs fall under this category.
Discretionary spending is the spending that requires a specific act of Congress to appropriate the funds. With some rare exceptions like military procurements and housing programs, the vast majority of discretionary spending items require an annual appropriations bill.
In Fiscal Year 2017, 63% or about $2.6 trillion of federal spending was mandatory spending, 30% or $1.2 trillion was discretionary spending, and the remaining roughly 7% represented net interest on the federal debt.
Currently, there are twelve appropriation bills that Congress is required to pass every year, and there is an appropriations subcommittee for each of these categories in both the House and the Senate (Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and the Environment, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, etc.). Congress can combine the twelve appropriation bills into one or more omnibus bills, but they do have to approve appropriations for all twelve categories by the end of the fiscal year, September 30 of each year.
If Congress fails to meet that fiscal year deadline, the government will go into shutdown unless they pass a continuing resolution authorizing expenditures of the funds.
This is the process established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which has been amended several times but the fundamental procedures remain the same.
Since that bill was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1974, Congress has managed to pass all the required annual appropriation bills by the deadline only four times: 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997.
That’s right — Congress has not been able to pass a budget on time for over twenty years.
This is stupid.
Kids born in 1997 will be able to legally drink alcohol this year, and it will be tough to blame them for desperately wanting a stiff drink when they realize how much debt our incompetent Congress is leaving for them to pay.
What happens all the other years Congress can’t do its job by its deadline is a repeated series of continuing resolutions. The vote on Friday was the fourth for this fiscal year; the third was last December.
Remember, Congress itself established the rules and deadlines for its own budget process.
If they can’t follow their own rules, perhaps they need to try harder, or amend the rules so they make more sense.
Instead, what the American taxpayer got this month was an absolute circus, as Congress struggled to agree on approving funding for less than a third of our government’s spending (as stated above, the mandatory entitlement spending and interest on the debt comprise about 70% of total federal government spending).
This is stupid.
Congress knows it’s stupid.
They think we’re too stupid to notice if it’s not fixed.
Every now and then, you’ll see a Congresscritter talk about this — usually on the campaign trail. But the longer they settle into their cozy Washington habitat, it gets mentioned less and less and less.
This week, we saw members of both parties jumping in front of TV cameras and posting their outrage in tweets and press releases, denouncing the other side’s irrational malfeasance for driving the government into a shutdown, or for making ridiculous demands.
The truth is that they’re all to blame, they have all failed to follow their own rules and meet their own deadlines, and — perhaps most egregiously — they have all failed to take any real and practical steps to address our growing national debt.
$20.6 trillion and counting! Wheeee!
This is so ****ing stupid.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.