Washington Matters


Congress Goes Boldly Nowhere on Budget


Budget incompetence in Washington is headed to a new low. It looks like Congress won't pass a single federal spending bill in time for  the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 and only one or two of the required 12 will be passed before lawmakers head home to campaign for reelection. A temporary funding bill will keep the government open -- Democratic leaders and President Bush aren't even trying to hammer out a budget deal -- and nearly all of the decisions on spending will be punted into next year.

If more Americans knew, Congress' popularity would sink into single digits.

As usual, politics is behind the decision. Democratic leaders would rather gamble and see if Barack Obama is elected, believing they can pass bills more to their liking and with more spending than Bush would allow. If McCain is elected, Congress may just put the entire non-defense part of the government on auto-pilot through the entire fiscal year and try to come up with new spending bills that can pass for 2010.

But lawmakers aren't necessarily doing the next president any favors. Whoever it is, he'll be saddled with a much larger deficit next year, probably around $600 billion when all is factored in, including the soft economy, more for Iraq and Afghanistan, disaster aid and the like. That will be up sharply from the $389 billion budget deficit projected for 2008.

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It'll hamstring the next president and the Democratic-run Congress. The huge deficit will be a great weight on big ideas being trotted out in the campaign, like investing in green technology or passing new tax cuts. And deficits -- or  the mounting federal debt -- aren't likely to look better in ensuing years, making it even hard to accomplish any of the spending, tax or programs reforms that the candidates are promising.

 



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