Stalemate in Congress

With a deficit more than $400 billion and a debt at $7 trillion, fiscal restraint is in order.

Members of Congress have a nasty habit of blaming the other party when partisan bickering grinds the legislative process to a halt. That kind of finger pointing might have worked in past years, but not this year. In control of both branches of Congress and the White House, Republicans have only themselves to blame for this summer’s stalemate.

Congress usually passes a springtime budget resolution to guide the summer appropriations process. Not this year. House and Senate Republicans viscerally debated, but never passed a resolution to set tax and spending guidelines for the upcoming fiscal year.

The 13 appropriations bills needed to finance the government when the new fiscal year starts in October will now have little in common. House and Senate negotiators will have a difficult task when they try to shape those bills into a coherent budget. The process is unlikely to conclude before Congress recesses in August, making a post-election lame-duck session all but inevitable.

This is not all bad. An emerging group of fiscally sane Republicans blocked passage of a budget resolution, insisting spending cuts offset future tax cuts. The rest of the party, including the Bush administration, scoffed at that suggestion, worried such a pay-as-you-go approach might imperil the president’s tax cuts.

Without a budget resolution, the House must hold a separate vote to raise the ceiling on the national debt. House

Republicans were hoping to bury that move in a budget resolution. In the Senate, Republican leaders now have to muster 60 votes rather than a simple majority to prolong three tax cuts slated to expire this fall. The result is fiscal decisions that would have passed quietly in the night will now spark some much needed debate.

It’s about time Republicans joined Democrats and the rest of the country in questioning an increasingly reckless fiscal strategy. With this year’s budget deficit well over $400 billion and the national debt standing at a lofty $7.1 trillion, a little fiscal restraint is clearly in order.