Morning Bell: Congress’ Historic Decision to Ignore Its Basic Duty

Mike Brownfield /

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) once said that the “most basic responsibility of governing is to pass a budget.” Yesterday it became clear that Congress has decided to shirk that responsibility, as word broke that the House likely will not pass a budget resolution for the first time since the modern budget process was created in 1974.

That’s earthshaking news, especially given the ballooning federal spending, which soared to an $82.69 billion deficit in April, a projected $1.5 trillion deficit in 2010, and even more deficits as far as the eye can see. Like any American’s household budget that tracks income and expenses, budget resolutions set a framework for Congress’ taxing and spending. But it’s a framework that the leadership in the House would rather do without.

The news came from Rep. Hoyer himself, who said “It’s difficult to pass budgets in election years because they reflect what the [fiscal] status is.” In other words, with November looming on the horizon, the left doesn’t want their constituents to realize just how much Congress is spending and how high taxes will go.

Heritage’s Brian Riedl explains:

Members of Congress are likely hesitant to show the American people how seriously they have damaged America’s current long-term budget picture. This Congress has refused to pare back runaway spending and deficits, and many of its Members may now hesitate to pass a budget resolution that shows the resulting trillion-dollar deficits. Instead, Congress is likely to try burying this vital issue in this election year.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tepidly acknowledged election year fears yesterday when she said, “There’s no question there is, at this moment, an anti-incumbent mood.” With 93% of Americans calling the federal deficit a “crisis” or a “major problem,” it might make sense for Congress to consider putting two-and-two together, recognize there’s a reason Americans aren’t happy with their performance, and exercise some leadership in righting the country’s fiscal ship.

Instead, Congressional leadership and President Barack Obama are abdicating their authority and putting America’s financial future in the hands of an unelected deficit commission tasked with making decisions on taxing and spending. The commission, though, is focused on long-term issues and doesn’t meet until well after the FY 2011 spending bills are due.

That leaves America in a lurch. Riedl explains that the failure to pass a budget resolution prevents Congress from capping discretionary spending for FY2011, and it’s an indication that Congress won’t find a way to limit runaway entitlement spending. It also means that other priorities, such as extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will fall by the wayside, leading to steep tax hikes, all while America is in the midst of a recession.

In the middle of this leadership vacuum, President Obama is touring the country in an attempt to convince the American people that his economic policies have steered the economy in the right direction. Yesterday in Buffalo he said:

I knew that if we didn’t act boldly and quickly — if we didn’t defy the politics of the moment and do what was necessary — we would have risked an even greater disaster.”

There are 172 days left until the November election, which leaves Congress time to act boldly and quickly, to do what is necessary to take up its “most basic responsibility,” pass a budget resolution, get a grip on spending and set a course for the United States’ fiscal future. To sit back and do nothing would truly risk that greater disaster.

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