On November 20, 2015

Washington’s latest deal: little cause for celebration

By Lee H. Hamilton

You can understand why President Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle sought to cast their end-of-October budget deal in the best possible light. They avoided a potentially catastrophic national default. They reduced the possibility of a government shutdown. And they raised the debt ceiling until March, 2017, taking that bargaining chip off the table until the next president is in the White House.

Still, for all their hard work, our political leaders indulged in two bad habits that they really need to kick, because they wreak havoc with effective and efficient government and cost taxpayers a pile of money.

First, while they gave themselves some breathing room before the next time the debt ceiling has to be raised, they will nonetheless have to raise the debt ceiling eventually. They should have abolished it, or at least suspended it.

The debt ceiling has become a political pawn, used repeatedly as leverage by opposition parties to make demands of the President. It has driven the persistent national game of “chicken” that has so tarnished Congress’s image in recent decades. The legislative maneuvering surrounding each debt ceiling bill consumes huge amounts of legislative time that is better spent on other matters.

The second bad habit is equally pernicious: the budget deal did little to shift Congress from its reliance on continuing resolutions. The CR, as it’s known, was designed to keep government operating for a few days or weeks while congressional negotiators worked out the budget. In recent decades, though, it has become the way we fund the government.

Continuing resolutions bypass the appropriations bills written by specialized committees and provide a favored few interests a bonanza. They also keep the federal government—and hence state and local agencies that rely on federal commitments—in “handcuffs,” as a recent article in Politico put it. The CR puts the government on automatic pilot, avoids hundreds of difficult funding and policy decisions, and has become a substitute for working hard to pass a budget by the regular process. It lacks transparency, sidesteps good budgeting, puts all the power in the hands of a few congressional leaders, and invites Congress to act in a crisis mode.

Do you want the Congress to work better? If so, ask your favorite member to think big and not lock into a failing system. A good start would be to kick these two bad habits.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Vermont values under ‘atax:’ Vermonters rally to challenge threat to food, water, shelter

June 19, 2024
Dear Editor, A broad cross section of Vermonters gathered in the State House cafeteria to express their displeasure with the direction the state’s political leadership is taking them. (And that was April 25; things have not improved since.) Feeling ignored or otherwise discounted and marginalized, and in some cases, even mocked, the diverse group chose…

Universal School Meals: Delivering for Vermont children, families and schools

June 19, 2024
By Teddy Waszazak Editor’s note: Teddy Waszazak is a resident of Barre and the Legislative Policy Lead at Hunger Free Vermont, a statewide advocacy and education nonprofit working to end hunger in Vermont. As another school year comes to a close, all of us in Vermont have two exciting milestones to celebrate: the start of…

VTSU should renew its commitment to diversity office

June 19, 2024
Dear Editor, In the summer of 2020, the nation watched 8 minutes and 46 seconds of video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a detained man named George Floyd until Floyd was asphyxiated to death. It was horrific, and Floyd was only one of several people of color who died at…

Scott was right to veto H.887

June 19, 2024
Dear Editor, Our state Legislature is meeting this week to vote on overriding Governor Scott’s vetoes of legislation introduced during the latest session. One of the bills for consideration is H. 887, the annual “yield bill,” which funds our public education system through property taxes. Governor Scott has rightly vetoed this bill because, according to…