March 31, 2020
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There’s bipartisan agreement about federal budget process failures. It’s time for bipartisan action.

Andrew Harnik | AP
Andrew Harnik | AP
The Washington Monument and the Dome of the U.S. Capitol, partially obscured by late evening fog, are visible from the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday in Washington.

Congress approved a $1.4 trillion spending package just in time for Christmas. We’re glad the legislation passed — and the president signed it into law — as it averted another costly and unnecessary government shutdown and provides some level of certainty for federal spending through the end of September.

That is no small achievement in an age of seemingly constant shutdown politics and short-term continuing spending resolutions, and amidst the bitter divisions that have only deepened during the ongoing impeachment process.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation rightly voted for the package before lawmakers left the Capitol for the holidays.

Sen. Susan Collins touted — and for good reason — a long list of measures her office said she secured in the funding agreement, including up to $150 million to address tick-borne diseases like Lyme, $300 million for a new training ship at Maine Maritime Academy and more than $4 billion for heating and weatherization programs. Sen. Angus King highlighted the inclusion of worthwhile provisions aimed at cutting prescription drug costs, supporting Gold Start families and bolstering rural health.

Rep. Chellie Pingree correctly acknowledged that the “isn’t a perfect bill by any means” while highlighting worthy investments such as $425 million in election security funding for states.

“Mainers are relying on us to provide certainty and protect our country from another senseless government shutdown,” Pingree said. And that’s a key reason why the yes votes from Maine’s delegation were the responsible choice in December.

Having said that, there should be little doubt that the process that led up to this spending bill remains significantly flawed. While there’s plenty to like in terms of valuable investments included in the more than 2,300 page document, there’s also plenty to question. At some point, Congress needs to stop putting itself in the position of choosing between a shutdown or a massive spending package agreed to at the last minute.

Theatrics, hyperbole and some policy disagreements aside, we agree with a lot of what Sen. Ted Cruz had to say in a viral video the Texas Republican posted on Twitter after he was one of only a small number of senators to oppose both parts of the funding agreement.

Though we viewed this funding as must-pass legislation to avoid the unnecessary and significant harm seen with last year’s 35-day shutdown, Cruz has as undeniable point about how broken the federal budget process has become.

Cruz took issue with a host of provisions included in the package, such as funding for gun violence research and raising the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21. We happen to think a lot of those individual policies make sense, but we do agree with Cruz in that last-minute budget deals (even when they are the result of months of behind the scenes work) are not a responsible way to go about making these decisions or funding the federal government.

“We’ve got to have Congress actually do its job, pass appropriations bills one at a time and spend money responsibly for the taxpayers instead of just continuing business as usual as the Washington swamp sadly has done far too long,” Cruz told a local CBS station in Texas. And he’s right about that.

Minus the swamp rhetoric, that’s not too far off from what we’ve been saying for a year about returning to a more “regular” budget and appropriations process — a process that follows a more predictable timetable rather than putting the government on autopilot with continuing resolutions or scrambling to avoid a shutdown with longer term but last-minute deals.

The notion that this process has fallen off track is nothing new. Members of Maine’s delegation have not shied away from criticizing the frequent use of continuing resolutions, now almost a foregone conclusion at some point in the fiscal year. This approach fails both in addressing our growing federal debt and deficit, and in making targeting investments to meet American’s current needs.

“Here’s a statement that won’t draw a lot of disagreement: Congress’s current budget process is just not working,” King. said in November when he joined with a group of Republicans and Democrats to introduce the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act.There has long been widespread bipartisan recognition on this issue. It’s time for bipartisan action.

Americans deserve a more deliberative, open and predictable budget and spending process that doesn’t set the stage for showdown drama every few months.

Lawmakers did the responsible thing in December by passing this spending bill, averting another shutdown, and advancing some valuable investments. But from a larger process standpoint, it is irresponsible for Congress to continue down this path of budgeting by crisis, rather than by deliberation.

 


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