Editorial May 26, 2017



Around the Web, on the issues

“‘This is Mulvaney’s budget,’ Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said this week. ‘Like I want to go home after having voting [sic] against Meals on Wheels and say, ‘Oh it’s a bad program, keeping seniors alive.’ There’s just some of the stuff in here that doesn’t make any sense… Frankly, you can’t pass these budgets on the floor.’”

–    Politico, 5/20/2017


“President Donald Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget plan is drawing rebukes, even from some Republican allies, for its politically unrealistic cuts to the social safety net and a broad swath of other domestic programs. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, says it’s ‘basically dead on arrival…’ Veteran GOP Rep. Harold Rogers , who represents a poor district in eastern Kentucky, says, ‘These cuts that are being proposed are draconian.’  Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, says, ‘I don’t think the president’s budget is going anywhere.’”

      –      Associated Press, 5/23/2017


“President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget plan, released Tuesday, faced nearly universal pushback in Congress, as even members of his party expressed skepticism about its provisions… Perhaps the most damaging sign for Trump’s budget is that many lawmakers in his party have taken issue with all or parts of the plan… Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has railed against government spending, even said the administration’s proposed cuts to some programs were too much. ‘Meals on Wheels, even for some of us who are considered to be fiscal hawks, may be a bridge too far,’ Meadows told The New York Times.”

    –     Business Insider, 5/23/2017


“House Republicans barely managed to pass their Obamacare repeal bill earlier this month, and they now face the possibility of having to vote again on their controversial health measure. House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t yet sent the bill to the Senate because there’s a chance that parts of it may need to be redone, depending on how the Congressional Budget Office estimates its effects… ‘Unaware,’ said Representative Jeff Denham of California, with noticeable surprise Thursday, when advised that his party leaders still hadn’t sent the bill over to the Senate… [O]ther senior Republicans weren’t aware that leaders had been holding onto the bill… ‘I had no idea,’ [Rep.] Dennis Ross of Florida, another member of the vote-counting team, said Thursday.”

–      Bloomberg, 5/18/2017


“What GOP senators and House members aren’t doing right now is passing major legislation, and it’s not just the marquee items like health care and a tax overhaul that are dragging. The Senate has no legislation on its agenda this week — business is instead limited to three low-profile nominations. The House — fresh off an 11-day recess — is devoting the week to mostly symbolic, feel-good legislation designed to show support for law enforcement. Another 11-day recess, for Memorial Day this time, is just around the corner.”

–    Associated Press, 5/16/2017


“The President of the United States should not be lecturing our closest and most steadfast allies but reaffirming our common defense and our commitment to stand with them.  I was appalled by his condescending remarks to NATO leaders today, which were an embarrassment for our country.  President Trump’s call for NATO members to pay for common defense as though the NATO alliance were a transactional relationship, along with his repeated insistence on banning immigration, risk undermining the alliance and the principles for which it stands.

“There should be no doubt: NATO remains a core alliance for the United States, and it is as necessary now as it has ever been.  As we confront a horrific terrorist attack in Britain, Russia’s ongoing incursion throughout Eastern Europe, and an ongoing crisis in Syria, we need a strong NATO ready to meet its collective defense commitments.  The United States and its NATO allies must defend the norms that underpin European security and, more broadly, the international order.  Instead of lecturing our allies about payments, President Trump ought to express America’s gratitude for the leadership and sacrifices we have seen from nations like Germany, which has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees; Denmark, which has sent troops to Afghanistan and maintains peacekeeping forces in Kosovo; and Canada, whose air force jointly patrols the skies over North America to protect our hemisphere.”

House Minority Whip Hoyer.

Hamilton on Congress

The Budget Process Remains Broken 

By Lee H. Hamilton



Think about this for a moment: Two days away from a federal shutdown, Congress comes up with a stopgap measure to keep the government operating… for a week. A few days later it arrives at a bipartisan budget deal lasting a bit over four months. This, in turn, moves the President to take to Twitter with the following statement: “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

With respect to President Trump, this assertion seems more focused on settling political scores than on the good of the country. There is no such thing as a “good” shutdown. The last time it happened, in 2013, it cost the economy $24 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s at the time. National institutions get shuttered, federal workers are out of a job for an indeterminate period, federal loans and support for veterans are frozen, state and local governments – and all the businesses, non-profits and community organizations that depend on them – face cash shortages, and the country’s most economically vulnerable must shift for themselves. All that and more happens during a shutdown.

Yet this is the state of budget politics in this era. We’re the world’s greatest democracy, and every few months we have to contemplate the very real possibility that the government might close its doors. Is this really the best we can do?

If the non-profit or business you respect most operated in this manner, would you be anything but appalled? Somehow, we’ve allowed ourselves to see this as standard operating procedure for the federal government.

How can it be that the most important document of the federal government – remember, the budget is the national blueprint for what we’ll do and how we’ll do it – gets handled in such a distressing, irrational, ineffective, uneconomic, and almost nonsensical manner?

I’ll tell you how: We keep electing people who tell us they’re distressed about conducting business in this fashion and then year after year fail to get us back on track.

Because make no mistake, we know how to do it better. Congress did it for many decades. It handled appropriations bills through committee hearings, gathered expert opinions, allowed members to propose improvements, and vetted federal taxing and spending thoroughly in both the House and the Senate before passing it on to the President. We had a steady annual process that may have had its difficulties, but offered the country a democratic and politically rational mechanism for deciding on our priorities and how to fund them.

We haven’t followed it since the middle of the 1990s. Instead, we’ve been forced to live with a process marked by high-stakes fiscal brinksmanship. Every important decision of government is reflected in the budget, but now we operate through omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions, all of which put the government more or less on automatic pilot. Operations and processes that should be reviewed annually get no real scrutiny. New initiatives are rarely considered.

The current budget deal, negotiated between Republicans and Democrats, at least has the virtue of having included both parties at the table with give and take on both sides. In Washington these days, that’s what passes for good government.

But let’s not mistake it for good process. Congress is still putting the budget together with no accountability, no transparency, and scanty debate. Most of it is written in secret largely by leadership staff. The process largely excludes ordinary members of Congress, except to vote after very limited debate. It offers little opportunity to consider amendments or expert testimony, or to conduct careful evaluations of proposed improvements and reforms. The ordinary self-corrective mechanisms that should keep government on an even keel are not operating.

And here’s the interesting thing: in all my conversations with public officials familiar with the current state of affairs, I can’t find a single one who defends it. They all know it’s bad process. But they keep using it year after year.

This is a real challenge to our representative democracy. The government faces enormous responsibilities at home and abroad, and the budget is the blueprint for how it’s going to deal with them. Isn’t it time we started getting it right?

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


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