Budget Debate -- Much Sound and Fury

Washington Matters

Budget Debate -- Much Sound and Fury

I'm glad I'm not a federal budget writer in Congress this year. I'd need a bag of anti-depressants just to deal with the futility. So much work for nothing, with critical spending decisions put off until after the election. Congressional leaders know it, they just won't admit it yet.

The current debates in the House and Senate on the budget resolutions are a case in point -- a prelude, in fact, to what will come later this year when actual spending bills are considered. Dozens of amendments are being considered this week that have little chance of passing but serve instead as political ammunition to put people on the record, again, on things like extending the Bush tax cuts, drilling for oil in Alaska's wilderness refuge, barring earmarked pork projects and eliminating the estate tax altogether.

The $3 trillion budget resolution for fiscal 2009 has no force of law, but it is a great stage for political theater. It serves as a blueprint only for later spending debates this summer and fall. And these future debates will be just as politically inspired as the current budget resolution debate.

With Democrats feeling good about expanding their House and Senate majorities in the elections and possibly working with a Democratic president, they'll take a chance on skipping many time-consuming spending debates with Bush and Republicans this fall. They'll be accused of negligence by Republicans for abandoning work and passing stop-gap bills to keep the government running. But Democrats will figure they can handle the criticism, and the public may not care so much anyhow about Washington's budget infighting.

The only exception: defense. They'll pass that bill because it's one part of the budget that could come back and haunt them if they don't get it signed into law before facing voters.