December 19, 2014

Congress Faces Long To-Do List for July

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

Returning to Washington from their July 4 break, members of Congress have only a limited amount of time before their August recess to get a great deal of work done -- much of it unfortunately postponed from earlier this year.

And after the August recess, Congress will have only a few weeks before Oct. 1, the start of Fiscal 2015. Lawmakers could adjourn shortly after that until after the November elections.

So starting today, lawmakers need to pick up the pace if they want to avoid wasteful delays, ill-informed decisions, last-minute votes and short-term budget fixes.

Ideally, Congress should approve the 2015 spending measures through the regular budget process, completed well before Oct. 1. Prospects for this, however, have dimmed.

The House has passed only five of the twelve required appropriations bills while the Senate is batting zero on them. Failure to act in a timely manner risks another costly government shutdown or one enormous and unwieldy omnibus bill that lumps all unfinished business together.

In addition to creating a crisis in transportation funding (see story below), lawmakers have yet to find a way to pay for improvements they seek in veterans’ health care. Instead, some in Congress have put their energy into browbeating their budget office over its cost estimates on their proposals.

Such inappropriate pressure undermines the credibility of the budget process. And when problems have been years in the making, lawmakers should also avoid using phony “emergency” declarations to get around their own spending caps.

Immigration issues remain unresolved, and the defense budget requires prompt action as well. Lawmakers have rejected reasonable military savings without offering many alternatives. As in other areas, Congress should resist gimmicks designed to dodge spending caps.