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Don’t count on the U.S. Congress to resolve fiscal mess – they got us here in the first place

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Don’t count on the U.S. Congress to resolve fiscal mess – they got us here in the first place

Oct 03, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Chuck Malloy
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Don’t count on the U.S. Congress to resolve fiscal mess – they got us here in the first place
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The U.S. Capitol on Sept. 28, 2023, as congressional leaders faced a government shutdown by midnight Saturday unless they pass a stopgap spending bill. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

Round and round we go, and we all know where this stops. It’s Nov. 17, when Congress will face another chapter of tired talks about a government shutdown.

There’s no telling who will be speaker of the House by then since House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dared to rely on Democrats to push through a 45-day stop-gap measure to keep the government operating. McCarthy’s possible ouster, along with Hunter Biden and the possible impeachment of President Joe Biden will provide enough distractions from the job that Congress should be doing with appropriations.

In theory, the stop-gap bill gives Congress time to work out differences with the budget. In practice with a divided government, there’s a greater chance that nothing will be done. If we’re lucky, we’ll get another stop-gap measure on Nov. 17 that will keep the government running for another month or two.

It’s a shame that it comes down to this. What’s amazing is there are those in Congress who think that shutting down the government is sound policy, as if all problems will be solved by refusing to sign off on a dozen appropriations bills. A lot of people get hurt by government shutdowns, but not members of Congress. They get paid regardless.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, favors a more sensible approach. As he wrote in a recent commentary, “letting the government shut down is neither good policy or good politics.”

He’s entirely correct – although that attitude will never land him an invite to join the House Freedom Caucus (he’s not interested anyway). Fellow Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher, who is part of the Freedom Caucus, predictably voted against the stop-gap bill. Given the nature of his district, there’s no question that his job would be on the line if he voted otherwise.

“Through this entire process, I have supported efforts to keep the government funded, control spending and end chaos at the Southern border,” Fulcher said. “Unfortunately, the most recent continuing resolution does not address these pressing matters my constituents want addressed.”

House conservatives do have a point. Spending is out of control and has been for a long time. The national debt is more than $33 trillion with no signs of slowing down, and it continues to grow no matter what party controls the White House.

But in these shutdown debates, detractors are nibbling at the edges. The focus is on discretionary spending, the 25-30 percent of the budget that Congress can control. If all discretionary spending were eliminated, including national defense, we’d still be drowning with the deficit. The problem is the 70-75 percent of the budget that Congress cannot touch – the so-called “entitlement” spending, which includes Social Security and Medicare. The fiscal crisis will never be resolved until Congress approves relevant reforms for the next generations. It’s as simple as that.

Ah, but there’s so much juicy political theater that goes with these shutdown talks. Members of Congress can draw lines in the sand, point fingers, puff out their chests and show all their constituents back home how they are trying to bring spending under control. Who cares about the millions of people who get hurt in the process, such as military men and women, border agents and air-traffic controllers.

“These political games have very real consequences for your friends and neighbors,” Simpson wrote. “To Idaho, a government shutdown means thousands of furloughs for government workers and contractors, no new vouchers to homeless veterans through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a halt to U.S. Small Business Administration loans, and the closure of our national parks, just to name a few impacts.”

Simpson isn’t the only one in Idaho’s delegation who holds a dim view of government shutdowns. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch voted for the temporary resolution and issued a joint statement.

“Government shutdowns hurt taxpayers. This legislation will keep the government’s lights on while ensuring our troops and border agents receive the pay they have earned. During this time, we will continue to advocate for a long-term funding solution that saves taxpayer dollars and serves the needs of Idahoans.”

Good luck with that. Government operations are safe until Nov. 17, and there are no guarantees after that. Keep your expectations low as far as the ability of Congress to find a long-lasting solution to this fiscal mess.

After all, these are the “honorable” men who helped give us this $33 trillion debt in the first place.