The last thing the public needed this year was more political brinkmanship. In 2020, governments asked the public to stop working, traveling, gathering, and “just stay home.” The goal was to “stop the spread” or “flatten the curve.” The result is millions of lost jobs, thousands of delayed medical procedures, and diminished educational attainment for America’s students. Now, on top of all this, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is steering Congress toward a disruptive government shutdown.
To be clear, Congress had all year to hammer out an agreement on appropriating money for congressionally funded government operations. In a perfect world, Congress would vote on the various department appropriations one by one before Sept. 30, and then, work would begin on the next year’s spending. This would avoid the now-annual tradition of releasing thousand-page “omnibus” packages just days before the government runs out of money. Methodically negotiating and voting on each appropriation would allow members of Congress to address narrower issues in certain areas where Congress spends our hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
What happens instead is that Congress kicks the can down the road, avoiding tough decisions.
Back in September, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown before the general election. A continuing resolution is a piece of legislation that maintains spending at current levels for a short period of time. This may have been prudent, but it was a step that was necessary only because Congress failed to stay on schedule to fund the government before Oct. 1.
This is unacceptable. Most people must comply with deadlines or else face consequences. Students in school must turn in their homework on time. Hourly workers must show up for their shifts on time. Business owners must meet delivery deadlines and pay bills on time. Congress relentlessly files extensions to avoid making tough choices and pretends there are no consequences for the excessive spending or missed deadlines. It’s high time the public demanded accountability from Congress.
Assuming appropriators come to an agreement this week, the “deal” will have been brokered by only a handful of representatives. Outside of congressional leadership and the House Appropriations Committee, rank-and-file members of Congress will have maybe 24 hours to read thousands of pages. There is no room for debate. Amendments will not be accepted. It’s a closed process dictated by a handful of people behind closed doors.
After wasting days and months, Congress will be filled with a sense of urgency. The forced dilemma is a choice to disrupt key government services by voting "no" or pass it and maintain the broken status quo. We should be clear, voting “no” is more of a rejection of the excess spending and this broken process than any one particular component of the deal. But, this year, the manufactured urgency is particularly rich. Congress had one of its least productive years in recent memory. A study by Quorum found this Congress to be the least productive in at least 40 years. Although the metric is the number of bills passed, perhaps the more relevant metric is spending. No Congress has spent more money, ever, than the 116th.
The outlook isn’t great for the 117th Congress, either. The 2021 congressional calendar only allots 101 session days next year, the fewest since 1933. So, we can likely expect a rerun of this drama next year. This is not acceptable. Our constituents deserve better and must demand a change to the broken status quo.
This opinion piece appeared in the Washington Examiner.