Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Few constitutionally prescribed congressional duties are as straightforward, regularly scheduled, ongoing and basic as the requirement of both chambers to pass laws in order to spend money. According to Article I Section 9 Clause 7, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” Since the fiscal affairs of America will now apparently be operating on deficit financing indefinitely into the future, Article I Section 8 Clause 1 also seems appropriate: “The Congress shall have the power … to borrow money on the credit of the United States.”

It’s called the budgeting process, and the Republican-controlled Congress has failed this year in performing this most basic duty. In the 12th year that voters entrusted Republicans to conduct congressional budgetary matters and in the sixth year of a Republican White House, these basic responsibilities seem beyond the grasp of the GOP-controlled Congress, in general, and the Republican majority (55-45) in the Senate, in particular. When the 109th Congress finally adjourns this month, the Senate almost certainly will have failed to pass final versions of nine of the 11 regular appropriations bills. Yet another continuing resolution, or stopgap spending measure, will apparently be passed before the 109th leaves town for good, handing off the details of the current budget year — which began nearly 10 weeks ago— to the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress.

So far, Congress has passed only the defense and homeland security appropriations bills for fiscal 2007. Before the end of June, the House passed its versions of all appropriations bills except the measure for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, which is still pending. Through today, the Senate has passed only three spending measures, two of which (Defense and Homeland Security) were reconciled in conference committees with the House version and were cleared before the fiscal year began.

It would be one thing if the Senate’s budgetary futility resulted because the time available for legislative duties was spent debating and passing other bills. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has had the Senate in session for a mere 120 days since the White House unveiled its 2007 budget on the first Monday in February. It would be another thing if the Senate were spending its time debating and voting on nominees to fill federal judicial vacancies. Appallingly, however, under Mr. Frist’s Senate leadership (and thanks in part to White House ineptitude), the number of unfilled judicial vacancies on the circuit courts of appeal (16) at the end of the 109th Congress will actually exceed the number of circuit-court nominees (15) whom the Democrat-controlled Senate returned to the White House after the 107th Congress adjourned.

If any other evidence were needed to confirm Republican futility on the budget front this year, consider the fact that 2006 will be the first year in history that a Congress in which one party controlled both the House and the Senate failed to pass a budget resolution.

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