Time to end fiscal year foolishness

Time to end fiscal year foolishness
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE and Congress are now trying to wrap up the “must-pass” legislation for the beginning of fiscal 2018, which began more than three months ago. In fact, the last time Congress passed all of its appropriations bills individually and on time was about a quarter of a century ago in fiscal 1994. By now, there is absolutely nothing “regular” about the “regular order,” which is the way Congress is supposed to do its job, according to dusty outdated textbooks and legend passed along by word of mouth from generation to generation.

The legislative battle this time will be much more in keeping with our new hyper-partisan age. In fact, it may be one of the most conflict-laden that we have yet seen, which clearly is saying a lot. Just the standard annual appropriations-issue universe is rent with rancor. The president proposed a big spending cut overall, down to the “sequester” levels that were mandated in 2011, with increases only for “emergencies.”

But even under one-party control, Congress hitherto has been unable to implement those levels through legislation that can muster enough votes. (Remember that appropriations bills require 60 Senate votes, not the simple majority that was used through “reconciliation” to enact the tax cuts and attempt ObamaCare repeal.)

The president proposed, and the Republican Party generally accepted, a large total spending-neutral transfer from domestic to defense programs. Democrats want a higher total with dollar-for-dollar equal increases for defense and domestic spending. That already has been enough to spark major conflict and to delay appropriations for the recent serious natural disasters.

Move on from there and you will find still more angst. The president insists on $18 billion for his Mexican border wall. Democrats question the wisdom, or the need, given that Mexico is supposed to pay for it. Meanwhile, “dreamers” are threatened with deportation because of the stalemate over the wall funding, despite general bipartisan acceptance of the case for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Also threatened despite some bipartisan agreement is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides coverage when parents cannot afford it.

All of this shows the enormous toll being taken by the hyper-partisanship in Washington. There has been shouting instead of speaking across the aisle for years. But after the fight to the death over ObamaCare repeal, followed by the resort to repeal of the ObamaCare individual insurance mandate to provide spending offsets for the equally partisan tax cuts, the screaming that was already beyond the threshold of pain has risen several decibels more.

The repeal of the insurance mandate may have unbalanced the painstakingly crafted improvements to ObamaCare from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Higher Education Act must protect free speech Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Wash.). Democrats claim that Republicans are holding the health insurance coverage of children and lower middle-class Americans hostage to their passion for tax cuts and a border wall. Republicans accuse Democrats of putting big domestic government ahead of the national defense.

All of these crucial issues are unresolved well into the fiscal year, to the detriment of good governance. Moreover, lurking in the background of the political drama is the tightening noose of the debt limit, which may drive the Treasury secretary to kite checks or fail to pay our legally due bills as early as March. The consequences for the nation of a failure to meet its legal obligations could be catastrophic.

Congress’s leaders on both sides are trapped on the fringes by their partisan extremes, when they should be reaching out for reasonable and principled compromise in the ideological center. One wing would not tolerate targeted tax cuts to make U.S. corporations more competitive, and so had to swallow an unaffordable package that went well beyond that reasonable objective. The other extreme rejects any compromise on health care or immigration, and so may be tarred by a government shutdown or a default that would make the beginning of World War I look rational and benign.

The legislation, both enacted and failed, of 2017 should deliver a lesson to both sides. Pushing a purely partisan agenda with no attempt at cooperation with the other side — even by a majority that can in so doing achieve a “victory” — not only yields inferior policy, but also poisons the well for future efforts. Even true crisis may not elicit sound policymaking in the nation’s urgent interest in 2018 or beyond. American business and employment will suffer as a result.

The United States is a great country that may now be brought low by its loudest self-described defenders. We must find open-minded dialog somewhere in this din of extreme instant communications.

Joseph J. Minarik (@JoeMinarik) is senior vice president and director of research at the Committee for Economic Development. He served as chief economist at the White House Office of Management and Budget for eight years under President Clinton. He previously worked with Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) on his efforts to reform the federal income tax, which culminated in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. He is coauthor of “Sustaining Capitalism: Bipartisan Solutions to Restore Trust & Prosperity.”