This 2nd Session of the 115th Congress continues the slow roll that began on October 1, 2017 restraining Federal agency operations for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) under the very limited prescription of a continuing resolution (CR), with nothing but uncertainty in the forecast.
The first CR, in which current rate funding authority was extended through December 8, 2017, was assumed to provide Congress sufficient time to produce a bi-partisan, bi-cameral budget agreement that would afford Federal agencies the needed budget certainty for FY18. But, as we approached the end of CR #1, the political landscape ignited and leaving fiscal chaos in its wake. And, rather than faithfully and dutifully dispense with FY18, an astonishing 5th continuing resolution is nearly underway.
Last November, we detailed the self-imposed, statutory barriers obstructing Congress from any meaningful progress toward a full-year budget agreement, barriers imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). Yet Congress left this simmering, untouched, almost willfully resigned to governing through a chain of CRs where only precious few programs and national emergent needs can [necessarily] be addressed. Despite near unanimous agreement and desire to relax the offending provisions of the BCA, attention has been fully directed elsewhere.
Until recently, the inflamed rhetoric from both sides of the political divide ignored the finer discussion required to appropriately fund the government. Thankfully, it now appears that House and Senate leadership may be on the cusp of an agreement to finally dispense with the BCA spending limitations. What is most regrettable is that the BCA has been the one legislative impediment where the solution, whatever it may be, has always enjoyed a small degree of political harmony.
Unfortunately, Federal agencies are set, once again, to begin their controlled stumble over the starting line of another CR. For the extended term of this 5th CR, some 40+ days, the Nation may well enjoy an encore of the acrimony that consumed the public discourse, deepened the partisan divide in Congress, and resulted in the recent 72-hour government shutdown. Entrenched positions on defense vs. domestic spending, the border wall, and other elements of immigration policy, just to name a few, have hijacked the appropriations process. It’s not that these matters don’t warrant passionate debate and deliberation. It’s really a question of when and how to deal with them. The last 5 months have demonstrated that finding any sort of amicable solution, even if temporary, requires a seemingly impossible level of accommodation within Congress. An attempt to mollify these issues in any meaningful way within the parameters of a catch-all omnibus appropriations measure cannot and should not happen.
Legislating, fundamentally, is the art of “give and take”, of “receive and recede”. These unresolved matters that led to the government shutdown are indeed civic imperatives that impact our national security, and perhaps even social and economic stability. But, they remain unresolved entirely due to the complete lack of concession from either side. This stalemate has eroded Congress’ fiscal responsibility. The one compromise that must now occur is that which will release fiscal year 2018 from the stranglehold these macro-level policies currently have on the daily functioning of our Federal government.
Neither the game nor the players have changed since FY18 began over five months ago. As this fourth overtime expires, Congressional leaders must now agree that the timing and need for a final omnibus is too urgent and too great. Employ the “germaneness test” and consider an omnibus that includes only that which is necessary for the proper and efficient functioning of the Federal government. This will produce the needed, if barely digestible, compromise to dispense with FY18, and then move to consider the macro-policy issues under regular order. After all, there is a movement afoot that will soon blind-side the Congress irrespective of current events. In just days, the President’s FY19 budget will be delivered to Capitol Hill, further compounding the fiscal responsibilities that lay before Congress. Compromise has been a lost art this year, but it’s now more than necessary to control this continued chaos.