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Friday, April 20, 2012

BUDGETLESS ACCOUNTING

"There's no need to have a Democratic budget. It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage."
-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

The United States constitution requires congress to write a new budget every year, without fail. The reason for this is twofold: first, it compels congress to examine its spending each year and adjust it to fit the needs of the nation, and second it puts the congressmen on record each year as to their ideas on spending and votes.

However, since the Democratic Party took over congress in 2006, they've passed exactly 3 budgets in 6 years, and have refused to pass one since 2010. That year, for the first time in American history, the dealine passed without a budget, and since that time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has refused to allow a budget to come up to vote in the Senate. In its place there have been "continuing resolutions" and no actual budget. These resolutions say, in essence "keep doing what we did last year" then other bills are passed which add to the spending whatever the congressmen want - nothing is ever cut.

In other words, the US Congress, led by Reid, has been in violation of federal law for three years. Even when a budget would get out of the Senate Budget committee, Reid would block it from a vote, and even from debate.

Monday of this week a news story came out which suggested some possible hope this year. Budget committee chairman Ken Conrad (D-ND) issued a statement outlining his intent to write a budget this year and get one passed even though Senator Reid clearly opposes it. There was some speculation at the time how this battle would turn out, and why Conrad was fighting against the Democratic Party leadership (perhaps because he's retiring and wanted to do the right thing his last year at least).

However, those hopes were dashed when Senator Conrad announced no such budget would be passed for the third year in a row. So no budget vote again this year, and at the Washington Examiner, they explain one reason why:
It is no coincidence that the Democrats' failure to pass a budget began immediately after Obamacare became law. In order to hide its $1.7 trillion price tag and $500 billion in tax increases through 2022, Democrats had already exhausted every last budgeting gimmick. As a result, they had no further tricks up their sleeve to pay for the rest of their spending priorities without voting on the massive tax increases that Conrad's new budget contained -- $2.6 trillion, and not just on the rich.

Put yourself in the shoes of the half-dozen vulnerable Democratic senators who are up for re-election this year. Would you want to vote for that?
But that's not enough of a reason. There's not an election every year, but for three years running, there's been no budget because the Democrat leadership in the Senate won't allow it. The House of Representatives can pass all the budgets it wants, but both houses have to pass it, and the Senate just won't even vote. So the "it will hurt us in an election" excuse only works for this year, and perhaps 2010. Why 2011?

Well, there are a few possible reasons, but the most likely in my mind is that the Democrats no longer hold a 2/3rds majority in the Senate. When Kent Conrad made his statement about not putting out a budget this year, he blamed Republicans for it. And that's who Senator Reid blames as well, because they keep opposing Democratic Party efforts to increase spending. A continuing resolution only requires a straight majority vote, but a budget vote can be filibustered (or, stopped with the wimpy "threat of a filibuster" version pathetic congressmen offer today).

And as Treasure Secretary Geithner told Republicans, "We don't have a definitive solution ... We just don't like yours." They don't have a way of cutting the deficit, they don't have any answers, they just don't want Republicans having any say.

When the Democrats had total control of the Senate, they could pass junk like the Stimulus and the Government Health Insurance Takeover act, they could raise taxes on cigarettes, and so on. With Republicans having any power at all, that is harder, and Harry Reid either lacks the spine or the diplomatic nature to work things out. He just doesn't even want to try.

Plus, he can try to spin this in the press as the evil obstructionist Republicans being so very troublemaking he had to throw up his hands; it just can't be done! Darn those conservatives, they won't let me spend, I just can't show leadership and bipartisanship that we Democrats ran on for 3 straight election cycles.

And since nobody is willing to hold him responsible (he won reelection in 2010 despite refusing to pass a budget), and nobody will punish congress for violating the US Constitution for year after year in a new and blatant manner, why not just put it off?

Think about it from a politician's point of view: there's no upside to voting on a budget. Something in that budget will annoy at least some of your constituents, and you don't want your opponent to be able to hold that over your head. So if you don't have to vote specifically for a new budget, so much the better!

They're so opposed to voting on a budget, not a single Democrat voted for President Obama's proposed budget. None, not in either house of congress. They were utterly defeated, with no votes for the thing.

And, if you don't pass a budget, nobody can accuse you of being "over budget." You can be wildly over budget but without having actually voted specifically on a budget, you have a technical argument or can weave the perception that you aren't. That's part of why we keep having this "debt ceiling" debate in congress: they keep raising the maximum amount of debt congress is allowed to spend past because there's no actual budget to limit them. It gives congress a blank check without an easy way of holding them to account.

So they just shrug at the law, knowing most voters won't understand or care, and violate the US Constitution with the confidence that few of them will be held accountable. The only people that can make them pay are you, the voters, but will you?

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