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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Feb. 24, 2024

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In Our View: Cycle of looming shutdowns no way to govern

The Columbian
Published:

Regardless of what one thinks about the budget deal passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives, all Americans should agree that this is no way to run a government. Repeated brinksmanship reflects a dysfunctional Congress and diminishes the stature of the House.

With a government shutdown looming and a Friday night deadline, House members agreed by a vote of 336-95 to extend funding and keep the federal government operating temporarily. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, joined nearly all Democrats in supporting the bill.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for approval. It would fund approximately 20 percent of government functions through Jan. 19 and the remainder through Feb. 2.

In other words, in nine short weeks the nation likely will be back where it started — haggling over budget details and proposals for funding cuts and concerns that government offices will close and employees will not be paid.

The reason for such concerns is that Congress routinely has failed to do its job. The last time elected officials managed to pass all necessary appropriations bills on time was 1997; this leads to a repeating cycle of continuing resolutions, in which previous spending levels are temporarily adopted.

In such scenarios, as a deadline for funding approaches, some members of the House are emboldened to hold the process hostage while seeking concessions on a particular budget or policy matter. This week, far-right members sought deep cuts in spending and policy changes at the U.S.-Mexico border. But Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., managed to put together a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in order to pass the measure and keep the government running.

In summarizing the situation, Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, said: “Frankly, I think the speaker missed an opportunity to do something. I think some of us on the real right side missed an opportunity, because we asked for everything.”

Johnson’s proposal echoed the actions of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who in May struck a deal with the White House to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and in September reached a budget agreement to avoid a government shutdown. For those actions, McCarthy was ousted as speaker in a mutiny led by far-right members of his party.

Advocates of using government shutdowns as a method for forcing spending cuts like to claim they don’t have any other options. Such assertions are inaccurate, ignoring the reality of the situation while pretending that extremism is no vice. During the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency, Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress; yet the federal budget increased 26 percent from Fiscal Year 2018 to Fiscal Year 2019, and the national debt continued to balloon. If hardline Republicans were sincere about reducing spending, they had an opportunity beginning in 2017.

But regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge, the budgeting process is grossly misused. Rather than passing comprehensive spending bills forged through robust negotiation, Congress is content to reach a crisis point and then simply renew existing spending levels. From 2010 to 2022, 47 continuing resolutions were approved, ranging in duration from one day to 176 days.

As Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Tacoma, said: “Lurching from crisis to crisis is just a poor way to govern.”

Americans of all political persuasions should be able to agree with that.

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