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A Good Start for the Democrats:

Washington Post:

Republican leaders left behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February, less than halfway through the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Democrats have signaled that when they take control of Congress in January they will extend that funding authority for the remainder of the year based largely on the previous year's spending levels, which will result in many cuts in programs.

"A lot of people will be left short," Rep. David R. Obey said.

The Democrats also will do something that is certain to anger many lawmakers but cheer critics of excessive government spending: They will wipe out thousands of lawmakers' pet projects, or earmarks, that have been a source of great controversy on Capitol Hill. In the past, lawmakers have peppered individual spending bills with earmarks benefiting special interests. But the funding resolution the Democrats intend to pass in lieu of spending bills will be devoid of earmarks.

here'smytwocents:
Unfortunately, what is wiped out is something much more threatening than simple pet projects and earmarks. The appropriations bills provide a budgeting framework for the agencies, and some critical work of the exec branch will be imperiled b/c of the irresponsibility of Congress to pass the approps bills instead of a CR.

I too agree the earmarks have become outrageous, but the consequences bend far further than merely zeroing out earmarks.

Two points to throw out:
1) this is one of the most irresponsible Congress' in memory. Not for the scandals, but because you would be hard-pressed to identify serious accomplishments which have occurred over the last year.

2) Congress should move to a two year budget cycle, and should also implement a system which requires members identify any earmarks they propose. Shine some light on the process, and stretch the appropriations process out to cover two years. Congress needlessly replicates work in scores of areas each year in reviewing, writing, and passing the approps bills. And what has it produced. I can't remember a time in the last 5 years where they have passed the approps bills on time and have not resorted to a CR.

Just my two cents
12.16.2006 10:05pm
wm13:
Interesting. Do you believe a word of the Washington Post article? Will you bet money that anything predicted by the Democrats in this article happens? Failing that, if this article turns to be basically untrue, will you put up a post saying "I was naive and foolish"?
12.16.2006 10:37pm
Tek Jansen:
wm: DB can sometimes be a bit gullible.
12.16.2006 10:53pm
AppSocRes (mail):
If the Democrats mean what they say, this is not a cheap political trick: A continuing resolution does just what it says, i.e., maintains budgets at the previous fiscal year's level. This is better than a new budget which would undoubtedly increase spending across the board. However, Congress still has to deal with special funding requests, e.g., to keep the war in Iraq boiling.

twocents: A two-year budget cycle would be great but, unless my memory fails me, this would require a Constitutional amendment.
12.16.2006 11:04pm
ech:
This is really, really stupid. It means that agencies can't shift funds out of old programs to new. If they had planned to buy 10k PCs last FY and the software this FY, they can't.

Fortunately, this is probably just a game.
12.16.2006 11:19pm
dick thompson (mail):
If you believe the democrats on this (Byrd and Mollohan), I have a bridge located not 10 miles from where I live that I will sell you for a great price - disassembly required but the friends of the dems will be happy to help out.
12.16.2006 11:50pm
Lev:

A two-year budget cycle would be great but, unless my memory fails me, this would require a Constitutional amendment.


I am not sure that is correct.

There are a number of things in the budget that have multi-years cycles. They are not affected by the "annual shutdown" because their money has already been authorized and appropriated.

The Pres is required to give an annual report to Congress. And budgets and laws passed by one Congress do not bind another Congress, but is a two year cycle.
12.16.2006 11:51pm
Dan G:
I don't think this will actually happen. But, if it does, the dems have earned my vote.
12.17.2006 12:51am
M. Stack (mail):
Earmarks are bad, but let's not kid ourselves with thinking that eliminating most will have significant affects on the amount that the government spends. Right now, earmarks account for only about 1% of the federal budget. Social Security, Medicare and other welfare programs account for nearly 66%. Should we cut 1% or 66%?

Democrats will not be able to reduce the government's budget because they desperately want to expand welfare. If 66% of the budget is expanded, while 1% is reduced, there is a net increase in government spending.
12.17.2006 2:27am
Paul Allen:

This is really, really stupid. It means that agencies can't shift funds out of old programs to new. If they had planned to buy 10k PCs last FY and the software this FY, they can't.

If the budgets passed by congress are really so specific, don't you think something is fundamentally wrong? I do, but I don't know that your example is true per se.
12.17.2006 3:13am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
So as I understand it they won't pass a new budget bill to next year but I wasn't clear as to whether the no earmark bit was only this year as well or was a longer commitment.

My speculation about the situation is that the republicans tried to lay a booby trap for the democrats but the democrats wouldn't bite. For instance the republicans might have packed the bill with all their pet projects and earmarks or fully funding every terrorism, law enforcement and military request and breaking the budget even while the president recommends severe cuts but only in abstruse non-politically sensitive areas. Then they could blame the democrats for radically increasing the budget (as soon as the dems took office they increased the budget by 70%) if they passed it.

I think the democrats made the right political calculation. At the moment their base won't abandon them but they need more support from moderates. Moreover, the allegation that the dems caused deep government cuts (so long as it isn't in the military or law enforcement areas) won't play at all in 2008 against the dems.
12.17.2006 3:18am
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
If the democrats became the party of small government, I would be very impressed.
12.17.2006 4:50am
David M. Nieporent (www):
2) Congress should move to a two year budget cycle, and should also implement a system which requires members identify any earmarks they propose. Shine some light on the process
"Shining light on the process" is not a bad thing in the abstract, but I don't see why anybody thinks it would do any good.

1) Do you think that people who don't know who drops earmarks into bills? Hint: if the spending is in legislator X's district, legislator X did it. That's a little oversimplified, but not much.

2) Do you think people are paying attention? Let's suppose we expose Congressman Smith as having appropriated $10 million for building a museum related to walrus mating. So what? He gets mocked a little... and then two years later, laughs last as he gets re-elected. (The whole "bridge to nowhere" controversy isn't a model for how this would work; that became such a big deal in large part because there was only one. If there were 435 earmarks being mocked, how much public attention could any one of them get?) Remember, the people who get most upset about a ridiculous project are the people who don't benefit from it... who are the people who don't get to vote for the candidate's re-election because they aren't in his district.
12.17.2006 7:53am
Parvenu:
This is really, really stupid. It means that agencies can't shift funds out of old programs to new. If they had planned to buy 10k PCs last FY and the software this FY, they can't.
I'm fairly confident that agencies' budgets are not so minutely detailed, unless it's in the form of an earmark, which appears to have been forgone here. They might do more than line-item "Department of Commerce," but they won't go much farther than, say, "Department of Commerce -> Economic Development Administration -> Grants."

David Nieporent wrote:
1) Do you think that people who don't know who drops earmarks into bills? Hint: if the spending is in legislator X's district, legislator X did it. That's a little oversimplified, but not much.
Not just that, but in each individual district, those earmarks aren't just something that legislators don't hide; they often quite openly boast about them and make them part of their campaigns. An individual earmark might not do anything for the other 434 congressional districts, but those 434 have no say in their local House election.
12.17.2006 8:11am
billb:
Parvenu: The budgets are much more like you say, but I know for a fact that there's grant money from the Department of Energy being held up because of the CR. If we continue without a budget after the new year, I know graduate students that will become unemployed because promised grant money cannot be disbursed. There's also a program which has had a pre-proposal process already which is stalled now waiting to issue the actual RFP until the CR/budge situation clears itself up.

This situation is totally irresponsible.
12.17.2006 11:46am
Fran (mail) (www):
The situation is totally irresponsible. The R's were in charge and they dropped the ball.

I remember way back when the R's made hay with the D's inabiltiy to pass the budget on time.

It took less than a generation for the R's to spin out control and forget what the sold the public on...less govt.

I look forward to the next 2 years of divided govt. Hopefully there will be less &%#* generated.

R's or D's; it's still the vultures (lobbyists), dangling their goodies (educational golf trips, funding for charity fronts and the occasional cold hard cash...$90,000 in a freezer), that corrupt the system.

If only we could legislate virtue...oh, wait, isn't that what the R's have been doin'? Next choice??
12.17.2006 1:55pm
Parvenu:
Fran: How "way back when" was "way back when?" The last budget lockout I remember was largely blamed on the GOP as well, back in 1996; they tried to blame it on Clinton but they didn't get much traction with that angle.
12.17.2006 8:07pm
Fran (mail) (www):
Parvenu

Precisely. Way back when was the 1980's and 90's. 'All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.'

If, during the 80's and 90's, the D's couldn't get their budget done on time and the R's used that against the D's...
...isn't what's good for the goose, good for the gander?
12.18.2006 7:25am
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
The situation is totally irresponsible. The R's were in charge and they dropped the ball.

Hah, that's really funny. So the Dems are going to improve things by making sure the ball stays on the floor?

As for the micromanagement issue... yes, budgets are micromanaged by Congress to that extent. The way it works is Congress appropriates money to meet a specific budgetary plan - that is quite detailed - submitted by the Executive Branch. Administration officials down to the level of minor appointees and senior program heads go to Capitol Hill and testify before committee or subcommittee regarding how they plan to spend money in the new year. There is a baseline budget for continuing programs, that will be more or less funded under a continuing resolution, but any new spending, particularly one time spending such as capital improvements, will probably not occur. Assuming no baseline increase under a CR, programs will actually get cut, due to the effect of inflationary pressures, and the fact that program size and utilization generally increases over time.

This is further complicated by the one year / multiple year money issue. Some appropriations are for a single year. That money must be spent, or in the equivalent of escrow and thoroughly committed to a particular contract, by the end of the fiscal year, or it disappears. Multiple year money can essentially sit in an agency's bank account for a couple years before it has to be spent. Both types of funds are, however, generally committed to specific expenses before they are apppropriated. It is not easy to shift major amounts of funds from one program to another, and if an agency manages to pull that off successfully, there are often members of Congress who want answers about why their particular pet programs weren't funded.

It sounds nice to just continue all spending on a CR, like an efficient way of cutting spending, but it really isn't; it punts the football back to the agencies to determine which programs get cut and which don't.

So to the outside-the-beltway-er, it looks like fiscal responsibility. To an inside-the-beltway-er, it looks like a Congressional abdication of responsibility, forcing budget cuts in an unaccountable manner, and if anything goes wrong the Dems can rake the Administration over the coals about it. A win-win for the Dems, in other words - pain free (for them) budget cuts with no consequence (for them).
12.18.2006 8:25am
abean:

Assuming no baseline increase under a CR, programs will actually get cut, due to the effect of inflationary pressures, and the fact that program size and utilization generally increases over time.

I wonder how many times we are going to have to listen to this canard. In standard usage, costs, budgets, income, etc are assumed to be in nominal dollars. Calling inflation effects 'cuts' is an abuse of common language conventions, making it an emotion play.

As for your second remark, that creeping increase has a name, "Parkinson's Law" and it's generally thought to be a bad thing needing restraint.
12.18.2006 11:55am
XON:
I interned with the Air Force General Counsel and sat next to their main 'financial' counsel. I remember reading the PowerPoint he used to brief all of the 'spenders' and 'budgeters'. It clearly made the point that budgets are almost entirely circumscribed by the Constitution to one year. In certain, narrow categories, monies could be budgeted and spent over two years.

As to what gets funded, in a CR, the agencies get to re-arrange their budgets to cover their priorities to the extent allowed by the actual spending bill; i.e., they couldn't re-program allocated funds to general funds, but they could re-program general funds to pretty much whatever configuration the agency head deemed desireable. The largest amount of pain, if I understood it correctly, is in programs that had growth assumptions built into them. Under a CR, that really forced the agencies into a situation where they could either allocate general funds to the program, or run the risk of the whole program collapsing.
12.18.2006 12:18pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
As for your second remark, that creeping increase has a name, "Parkinson's Law" and it's generally thought to be a bad thing needing restraint.

Oh, I agree. I'm actually all in favor of budget cuts. But it seems to me that if Congress is going to cut budgets, it should do so in an accountable manner, same as when they fund budgets. Kicking the problem over to the Executive Branch is pretty irresponsible.

As to what gets funded, in a CR, the agencies get to re-arrange their budgets to cover their priorities to the extent allowed by the actual spending bill; i.e., they couldn't re-program allocated funds to general funds, but they could re-program general funds to pretty much whatever configuration the agency head deemed desireable.

That's true, as far as it goes. However, whether the CR funding meets planned growth (baselining) depends entirely on the terms of the program to begin with, and the terms of the CR. As for shifting funds - I haven't seen too many major programs that were funded out of the general fund. Congress actually gets kind of funny about general funds being used to launch major programs, especially where Congress didn't have some say in the program design. Moreover, many agencies have very little budgetary flexibility, with much of their monies being tied up in long term contractual agreements (facility costs, wages, which are set in advance) and initiatives that are congressionally driven. The idea that money can just be reapportioned within an agency isn't exactly universally applicable.
12.18.2006 3:26pm