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Bolling: The Congressional Budget Process Is a Disaster … But So Is Everything Else in Washington These Days

Our nation’s leaders are celebrating the fact that they have agreed to another 60-day spending bill to keep the federal government operational: Congress passes another stop-gap to prevent government shutdown. Now what? [1] (Richmond Times-Dispatch).

But let’s be clear: this is no reason to celebrate. It’s just the most recent reflection of how broken the federal budget process really is.

Here are a couple of facts we should remain mindful of:

1. The United States has not produced a comprehensive, balanced federal budget since 2001. That was the last year of the Clinton administration. The federal government has run significant budget deficits every year since then, which is why we now have a $34 trillion national debt, with no end in sight.

2. The federal government has not produced a comprehensive budget – balanced or not – on time since 1997. In fact, the Congress has only adopted a comprehensive federal budget on time four times in the past forty years! In every other year, Congress has resorted to short term spending resolutions which keep different parts of the federal government funded for specified periods of time.

If any business in America operated this way they would quickly go bankrupt, and the leaders of those businesses would probably end up in jail.

And if any state or local government operated this way they would be in violation of their constitutions and charters, almost all of which require a balanced budget and prohibit the incurring of governmental debt.

So how can we fix this problem at the federal level? Here are some thoughts.

First, it will require leadership, which is something seriously lacking in Washington these days. That leadership will have to come from the White House and from Congress, few of whom really seem to mind the fact that the nation’s financial house is in disorder and crumbling around them.

Unfortunately, these “single minded seekers of reelection,” as Dr. Tom Patterson of Harvard calls them, are more interested in shoring up their political base so they can stay in office for as long as they can, rather than focusing on solving the major problems facing our country.

Second, we need to pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution that requires, 1) that the budget be balanced each year – no more debt!, and 2) that the budget process be completed on time.

But would our current crop of federal “leaders” be willing to offer up a balanced budget amendment? No way! Why? Because it would require them to then make difficult decisions regarding federal tax and spending policy, and they are not interested in making difficult decisions, many of which could prove politically unpopular.

Which brings me to the third thing we should do – pass legislation imposing term limits on members of Congress.
Serving in Congress should not be a lifetime appointment. Limiting members of the U.S. Senate to two six-year terms, and members of the House of Representatives to six, two-year terms, would break the cycle of perpetual governmental service and make it more likely that true leaders, who are willing to seriously confront the nation’s problems without regard to the next election, would arise.

But again, would Congress be willing to impose term limits on itself? No way! Why? Because they care more about staying in office than they do about the nation they supposedly serve.

All of this is really quite depressing, but I remain hopeful that the American people will rise up and demand these kind of changes. Then again, most Americans seem more concerned about what will happen on the next episode of Real Housewives of DC than they are about what is happening, or not happening, in the U.S. Congress.

God help us!