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106 Days? Hardly Working

By William Spriggs | 10/11/2013, 4:08 p.m.

In all the coverage of the shutdown of the federal government forced by House Speaker John Boehner, little has been shared on how things got to this point. Too much of the coverage portrays the budget process as a food fight over one issue. Yet, examining the process that created the brinkmanship of Speaker Boehner and the irresponsible decision making that got us here, this needs to be laid out.

Since receiving the budget proposal from President Barack Obama in early February, the House of Representatives under Boehner was in session 106 out of 171 working days until Sept. 30, when the House should have completed its work on the federal appropriations process. The budget process involves Congress passing 12 appropriations bills to fund the various federal agencies and a reconciliation bill to handle taxes and mandatory expenditures.

On March 29, the House voted on a budget resolution that started the appropriations process. Ten Republicans voted against the budget resolution, but all the “yeas” for the resolution came from the Republican Caucus; hardly a “bipartisan” document. The House passed eight appropriations bills, but only the legislative branch appropriation, the military construction and the Department of Veteran Affairs could be called bipartisan. The House failed to pass the other four appropriations bills for the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, State and Treasury and the Environmental Protection Agency and national security agencies.

So we got to Sept. 30 with Boehner having done only a portion of the job under his responsibility. Far from listening to Democrats in the House, he did force through a budget resolution with no votes from Democrats; and received concurrence from Democrats on only two of the eight appropriations bills that were passed. Objectively, then, Boehner has no evidence to offer that he works in a bipartisan fashion, or that the appropriations process was slowed by the White House after Boehner held Congress in session for only 60% of business days to do its work on the budget. When Congress fails to act in a timely fashion, it must pass a continuing resolution to let the government operate while Congress finishes the appropriations process; giving itself an extension to finish its work.

So, can there be little surprise with Obama’s response when Boehner insists that either the president adopt a Republican budget proposal or shut down the entire government? The Senate Democrats are proposing a continuing resolution based on more severe budget caps than the House worked with. As a result, the proposal from the Senate Democrats is to continue funding the government but with huge cuts in non-defense discretionary spending from President Obama’s budget proposal. The Senate Democrats cap non-defense spending $133 billion below the president’s budget submission. So can there be little surprise with Obama’s response to Boehner’s demands when the president has said he will sign a continuing resolution that slashes his budget proposal? Clearly, it is Boehner who stands in opposition to a reasonable solution to the situation we are in.