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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Around Washington you can tell football season is upon us because Congress is lining up to punt its work until after the elections.

Lawmakers have plenty to do over the next month, but little will — and even less incentive — to do it. Congress is grappling with the still-stumbling economy, an immigration crisis, the brewing conflict along the Russia-Ukraine border, Islamic State insurgents in Iraq and Syria, and the growing number of U.S. companies averting taxes via inversions — a trick that lets them legally pretend to be based in other countries.

All of these issues, just like funding government, require leadership. But what we will get in the run up to the election is little more than pandering to the base.

Members of both major political parties will talk past the crisis of immigrant children. After telling each other it’s their fault, Democrats and Republicans alike are advocating “solutions” to the Islamic State’s brutality. These all amount to spending money to deal with the threat, without any real plan for success or what’s next.

And as more and more big companies declare that they’re contemplating a shift of their headquarters overseas after purchasing foreign operations to cut their tax bills, Congress doesn’t seem exorcised enough to do anything about it.

Where is Congress? Asleep at the switch? More like with a finger in the wind.

No lawmaker wants to do anything that might give the other side any fodder when several House seats look like they could go either way. Even more important, it looks like either party could wind up with majority control over the Senate. So there may be a few votes and speeches for the base, but then lawmakers will quickly retreat to their districts to try to hold on to their jobs.

And so Congress fiddles while the spending house burns.

Our lawmakers have one constitutionally mandated job each year: pass the spending bills that keep government running. There are a dozen spending bills and 12 “work” days scheduled in September, but it’s unlikely that even one of them will be enacted.

So far this year, the House has passed seven spending bills and the Senate a grand total of zero. That makes the adoption of a continuing resolution assured. A continuing resolution would allow spending at this year’s levels in the new fiscal year, probably at least until December.

There’s no excuse for this. Lawmakers have known all year what the top line discretionary spending levels for fiscal year 2015 would be.

Continuing resolutions aren’t victimless. They tie the hands of agencies that don’t know what their budgets will be next year, whether they can upgrade aging computers, travel, or hire new staff. This blind budgeting approach takes away the opportunity to cut programs that are unnecessary, and precludes directing tax dollars to programs that work particularly well or save money.

And continuing resolutions guarantee inefficiency and waste. For lawmakers who like to bash government, it’s kind of perfect. Congress doesn’t do its job, which makes it hard for the agencies to do theirs, and lawmakers get to bash them for being wasteful and inefficient.

Here’s a novel thought for Congress. Why don’t you roll up your sleeves and do the job that you got elected to do? Don’t fritter away the time. In fact, you might as well see this as your audition to the electorate in November.

Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Cross-posted from Other Words.

Photo: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

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