Will pres­i­dent use con­gres­sional dys­func­tion to achieve ob­jec­tive?

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION - Low­man S. Henry Colum­nist

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump made con­struc­tion of a bor­der wall be­tween the United States and Mex­ico one of the key is­sues in his 2016 cam­paign. The wall has be­come the fo­cal point of a much larger plan for se­cur­ing the na­tion’s south­ern bor­der and con­trol­ling the flow of il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Con­gres­sional Democrats, more con­cerned about pol­i­tics than na­tional se­cu­rity, have so far pre­vented Pres­i­dent Trump from get­ting the fund­ing needed to build the wall and gen­er­ally frus­trated ef­forts to curb il­le­gal en­tries into the coun­try.

Cer­tainly not known for his pa­tience, Pres­i­dent Trump is now threat­en­ing to “shut down” the fed­eral gov­ern­ment if fund­ing for the wall is not in­cluded in the fed­eral bud­get, the dead­line for ap­proval of which is Oc­to­ber 1.

The prob­lem is that it has been decades since Congress ac­tu­ally ap­proved a fed­eral bud­get. Fail­ing in its fore­most con­sti­tu­tional duty, Congress has in­stead kept spend­ing flow­ing through a process known as “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tions” be­cause it is in­ca­pable of ar­riv­ing at con­sen­sus.

Like most mat­ters as­so­ci­ated with gov­ern­ment how things are sup­posed to work bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to how they ac­tu­ally work. The fed­eral bud­get process is no ex­cep­tion to that rule.

In the­ory, shortly af­ter first of the cal­en­dar year the pres­i­dent sub­mits a pro­posed fed­eral bud­get to congress. Congress then de­vel­ops top line bud­get num­bers set­ting a bench­mark for spend­ing. Then ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tees in the two cham­bers de­velop spend num­bers for spe­cific ex­pen­di­tures. Those ap­pro­pri­a­tions are ex­pected to go to a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee where the dif­fer­ences be­tween the two cham­bers are worked out.

This process must be com­pleted by Oc­to­ber 1st, the start of the fed­eral fis­cal year. De­pend­ing upon how you de­fine a “passed” bud­get, it has been since at least 1997 since the reg­u­lar or­der of the process played out.

And so dur­ing these wan­ing days of sum­mer with yet an­other Oc­to­ber 1 dead­line loom­ing, the bud­get games are well un­der­way. It is clear Congress will now send an­other con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion, rather than an ac­tual bud­get, to the pres­i­dent. The last such om­nibus bill was an orgy of spend­ing which the pres­i­dent re­luc­tantly signed — while warn­ing he would not sign an­other such mon­stros­ity.

Democrats have dug in their heels on the bor­der wall and on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion gen­er­ally. With the aid of a com­pli­ant main­stream news me­dia they have art­fully dem­a­gogued the is­sue for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage with an eye to­ward re­gain­ing con­trol of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Novem­ber elec­tions.

That of course is a very real pos­si­bil­ity and the pres­i­dent knows it. His­tor­i­cally the party of a newly elected pres­i­dent loses seats in the next mid-term elec­tion. While the math fa­vors Re­pub­li­can re­ten­tion of their U.S. Se­nate ma­jor­ity, con­trol of the lower cham­ber re­mains very much in doubt.

By re­fus­ing to sign any con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion that does not in­clude bor­der wall fund­ing the pres­i­dent would be ful­fill­ing a key cam­paign prom­ise, place a spot­light on Demo­crat in­tran­si­gence over the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue, en­er­gize the Re­pub­li­can base for the up­com­ing elec­tions, and high­light the ab­sur­dity of the bro­ken fed­eral bud­get process.

Gov­ern­ment by shut­down is cer­tainly not the pre­ferred way to pro­ceed and is ul­ti­mately an ad­mis­sion of fail­ure by all in­volved in the process. Congress bears the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for this fail­ure. Af­ter all, they are the ones who for decades have not ac­tu­ally passed a fed­eral bud­get and placed it on a pres­i­dent’s desk for sig­na­ture.

That an un­ortho­dox pres­i­dent might uti­lize con­gres­sional dys­func­tion to ac­com­plish one of his key pol­icy ob­jec­tives is en­tirely pre­dictable. How it will all play out leg­isla­tively or po­lit­i­cally is im­pos­si­ble to tell, but it is be­gin­ning to look like we might find out.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.