Kicking the debt can down the road isn't a long-term solution

Kicking the debt can down the road isn't a long-term solution
© YouTube/The Wall Street Journal

One could almost hear the sighs of relief from Congress on Thursday as lawmakers quietly passed another short-term spending bill that stopped the government from shutting down — one day before the deadline! — and put off the next round of funding fights until Dec. 22.

The deal also reauthorized items like the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), postponing ongoing reform negotiations for those measures for at least the next two weeks. 

Meanwhile, “discussions continue” on a range of difficult standoffs, including what to do with undocumented “Dreamers” and whether Congress will secure funds for the long-promised border wall.

This is not to mention growing calls from some usual suspects to pass a multi-year budget deal that hikes spending caps — a startlingly irresponsible idea that one hopes would also create controversy. 

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All expectations are that we can expect another continuing resolution bill through part of January once this one expires, but right now, at least for a couple of weeks, the can has been comfortably kicked along.

 

While some Republicans objected to the deal, it ultimately passed the House and the Senate on a largely party-line vote. But trouble is still on the horizon and prospects for a government shutdown are still there.

The current situation, to be clear, is hardly unique. In fact, fall 2017 marks the fourth consecutive year to play host to a nail-biting December budget standoff.

Last year, after the election, Congress passed a two-and-a-half-month continuing resolution (CR) that also ran until the second week of December, before ultimately approving a new four-and-a-half-month extension to allow for repealing ObamaCare before the end of fiscal year (FY) 2017.

In both 2014 and 2015, Congress passed CRs lasting until Dec. 11, before finally enacting appropriations packages for the remainder of fiscal 2015 and 2016, respectively.

While December budget crises may be the new normal, this year could be the worst, with the funding cliff now set closer to Christmas than in recent memory and the severity of the standoffs just as high — if not higher — under President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE

No doubt, this is a play we’ve seen before — partisan tensions on just about every issue and an inability to pass fundamental process reforms that would allow lawmakers to more smoothly carry out government’s most basic function.

It’s now been nearly a quarter-decade since Congress finished the actual budget process as it’s supposed to happen: passing a budget, approving 12 appropriations bills and sending them to the president’s desk.

This jumbled mess of short-term stopgaps, holiday deadlines and must-pass packages with the ever-present threat of shutdown may be a habit, but it is not the way things are supposed to be.

It’s hard to predict with much certainty just how close Congress will get to shutdown this time before someone blinks, but we can predict with absolute certainty that these regularly scheduled crises will keep occurring unless real changes are made.

What a present it’d be if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle actually channeled the Christmas spirit and passed fundamental budget reform rather than giving taxpayers a lump of bipartisan coal.

Jonathan Bydlak is the founder and president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending and SpendingTracker.org. Follow him on Twitter @jbydlak and @Reduce_Spending.