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April 4th, 2011
By Tom Carter
In the great movie Network, the character Howard Beale, played by the late Peter Finch, told his audience: “I want you to go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.'”
That’s the way I feel about the current crop of politicians in Washington — most of them, anyway. In addition to all their other failures and misdemeanors, over the past decade (at least) they’ve abjectly failed to manage the nation’s fiscal affairs.
At this point, we’re running absurd annual deficits and burdened by what should be an unbelievable national debt. That means, to anyone with common sense, that we have to have more revenue and reduce spending. But, no. None of them has the guts to increase taxes, aside from some Democrats and only if increases apply to a limited number of rich people. Likewise, almost all of them are too cowardly to cut spending in the amounts necessary.
And look at the present situation. There is no budget for FY 2011 because Congress passed none of the appropriations bills last year. They were too busy with health care, presumably. So far we’ve had six continuing resolutions (CR) to fund the federal government for short periods of time, amid a constant, unseemly squabbling between the parties about relatively insignificant funding reductions and riders on CRs for pet Republican causes.
The current CR expires on April 8 — this Friday. The bickering children in Congress may not be able to pass another one, either a full-year CR or yet another interim CR. If that happens, we go into an appropriations lapse or gap, presumably resulting in a government shutdown. But does the government actually shut down? No, of course not. Essential employees providing essential services will continue to function, and those services will be funded.
Here’s the real question: How can they keep spending money in the absence of appropriations? After all, the Constitution says in Article I, Section 9: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law….” I know, I know; there are cases in which previously appropriated funds can still be spent, there are authorized carryovers from previous fiscal years, etc. There’s also the Anti-Deficiency Act which permits Congress to authorize spending of funds that haven’t been appropriated in some cases. That alone is probably unconstitutional, but it’s never been legally declared as such. You can read all about this stuff in a Harvard Law School paper — but get the coffee ready, and you might want a couple of toothpicks to keep your eyelids open.
So here we are. The politicians in Congress will continue playing games, and maybe they won’t get around to performing one of their fundamental functions — funding the government. In that case, we go into shutdown on April 9. We won’t really “shut down” of course; essential things will be paid for, and the Constitution be damned. Or maybe they will pass another CR, either for all of FY 2011 (through September 30) or for another few weeks, after which the dance will go on.
Meanwhile, you have to wonder what will happen with the FY 2012 budget. Will they take time to work on it and get it passed before October 1, when FY 2012 begins? Don’t bet the farm on it. But what’s the big deal — President Obama’s proposed FY 2012 budget only shows a deficit of $1.1 trillion dollars — that’s $2.6 trillion in revenue, $3.7 trillion in expenditures. That couldn’t work in the states because almost all of them are required by their constitutions to balance their budgets. And in private business? Proposing a budget so ridiculously out of whack would result in CEOs and CFOs being fired immediately for gross incompetence.
Yeah, I’m mad as hell, and I’d sure like to not take this anymore. But I guess I will because I can’t do anything about it. I can cast a few pathetic votes for a congressman and a senator and president, but it won’t matter. Until we all get mad enough to make the necessary changes, we’ll all have to keep taking it.
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