Stop governing by crisisPublished 10:39pm Monday, December 9, 2013
This month, as Congress looks ahead to the New Year, it finds itself in a place all too familiar to Americans. Instead of debates over purposeful budgeting, we’re confronted once again with tired phrases that tell of poor planning and irresponsible governing: Temporary spending. Stopgap measures. Last-minute deals.
Unfortunately, it is an accurate description of congressional budgeting during the past several years. In fact, this year is the first since 2009 that both chambers of Congress have actually passed a budget.
To put that into perspective, the last time the Senate passed a budget, the general public had never held an iPad, General Motors had yet to declare bankruptcy, and the national debt was $6 trillion smaller than it is today.
After the start of the fiscal year was moved to Oct. 1, the last time all appropriations bills were enacted on time was in the 1990s. Since that point, Congress has jammed appropriations bills together in omnibus packages or simply continued the previous year’s funding in a smaller bill, which is increasingly being done at the final hour.
Despite what the current environment would suggest, congressional budget responsibilities are not optional. Both chambers of Congress have an obligation to pass a budget to guide America’s fiscal future. By law, each house of Congress is required to pass its own version of a budget. They must work out differences in a conference committee to develop a final budget. But this is not happening.
Instead, Congress has gotten into a dangerous habit of governing by crisis. Instead of coming to an agreement on a purposeful budget, spending bills are then left to the final hour. Or, using continuing resolutions, government spending is forced on autopilot, which means we rely on last year’s priorities to guide a new year’s demands.
This is an irresponsible way to govern, and the effect of such governing is far worse than Congress simply punting issues into a new year. It endangers the livelihood of our nation and of American citizens. Failing to pass a budget prevents economic security for workers. It fails to ensure a secure retirement for seniors. And it fails to expand opportunities to our youngest generations.
Governing by crisis doesn’t lead us anywhere except into deeper fiscal disaster. In January 1995, a constitutional amendment that mandated a balanced budget passed the U.S House of Representatives. Two months later, the balanced budget amendment was brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate, where it failed by one vote. Since then, the federal debt has more than tripled in size from $5.1 trillion to $17.2 trillion today. We cannot afford to operate with no plan, no discipline, and no accountability.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have made it a priority to continue to fight for a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution, because I believe it demands responsible governing. A balanced budget amendment would require that Congress not spend more than it receives in revenues, would require the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress and requires a three-fifths majority vote to increase the debt limit. It would eliminate the federal deficit.
Most states must balance their budget and are forced to prioritize their obligations and make tough choices. A balanced budget amendment would require the federal government to do the same. It is the only way to ensure that Congress will no longer fail to meet their responsibility of passing a budget, regardless of who is in power.
To add an additional layer of accountability to Congress, I have also introduced the Congressional Accountability Pay Act to break Congress’ addiction to spending by tying members’ salaries directly to spending. The premise of the bill is simple — the more members of Congress spend, the less they make in salary. So, if Congress increases spending by 7 percent, salaries would be cut by 7 percent.
There is only one way to break the current pattern of dysfunctional budgeting: Stop governing by crisis and start governing by principle.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.