A Tale of Two Spending Bills

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times? Let's just go with the worst of times.

In a mostly symbolic vote, the Senate failed to adopt either the Continuing Resolution setting federal spending for the remainder of the fiscal year that was passed by the Republican-controlled House, H.R. 1, or the Senate Democrats' alternative, in the form of an amendment from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Inouye (D-HI). The vote was designed to show exactly what everyone in Washington already knew: neither option is going to happen, so it's time to move on.

The Inouye amendment would have cut about $5 billion from current spending levels, while the House bill would have cut around $58 billion. Clearly, there is a wide gap between both sides that needs to be closed quickly: the current CR funding the government expires on March 18. The Republican proposal failed by a vote of 44-56 and the Democratic one by a vote of 42-58.

There are bigger budget fish to fry, so a compromise would be the best way to go about building some trust between key stakeholders--something that will be required to tackle the larger portions of the budget, namely entitlements and tax reform, and to develop a longer term fiscal plan.

Not only is the debt limit increase just around the corner, but the deadline for the FY 2012 budget resolution, as set in the 1974 Budget Act, is only a month away--although Congress rarely meets this deadline. Congress has some serious work to do on getting control of the budget, and that includes budget process reform. The fact that we’re now in March debating spending levels for the rest of the year—levels which should have been agreed upon nearly a year ago—shows how dysfunctional the process is.

We need to be focusing on next year’s budget and how we’re going to control exploding deficits and debt down the road. Decisions our leaders make now will help determine whether we look back upon this time as "the age of foolishness" or "the age of wisdom."