Opinion: Can’t anybody here play this game?

While watching the Braves sweep the Mets last weekend, I was reminded of the first manager of the Mets, baseball legend Casey Stengel.

Stengel’s famous line when his expansion 1962 Mets team lost 120 games was memorable: ‘Can’t anybody here play this game?’

His frustration made me think of Congress, and how lawmakers can’t balance the budget or get their basic spending work done on time.

Congress is supposed to finalize a dozen government funding bills by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year. But it rarely happens — the last time was in 1996.

It doesn’t matter which party is in charge on Capitol Hill. The bills don’t get finished, which then leads to government shutdown threats and a giant “Omnibus” funding bill.

So, I have to ask: Can’t anybody here play this game?

This week, the federal debt went over $31 trillion. It was only 5 years ago that it hit $20 trillion. Republicans cried foul over big deficits during the Obama Administration, then accepted even larger yearly deficits under Donald Trump.

Joe Biden has watched the deficit fall from nearly $3 trillion in 2021 to around $1 trillion this year — mainly because of the end of special COVID relief programs.

But the latest White House budget review doesn’t forecast a single yearly deficit under $1 trillion for the next decade.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

President Bill Clinton and a GOP Congress were the last ones who balanced the budget, with four straight surplus years from 1998-2001.

But even that was sort of an accident, as a Clinton tax increase plus GOP spending limits combined with the internet boom brought in a rush of money.

When I started working on Capitol Hill in 1980, Jimmy Carter was running a deficit of about $70 billion.

Republicans were outraged.

“Tax and spend. Tax and spend,” they complained.

But Carter ended up with a better record on the federal deficit than every GOP President elected after him.

Lawmakers have three basic options for dealing with the budget:

  1. Raise taxes to pay for spending.
  2. Cut spending to match available tax revenues.
  3. A combination of the two.

Republicans only talk about cutting taxes (which reduces spending) or cutting spending — but the depth of cuts needed to balance the budget would cause a political uproar.

Meanwhile, Democrats pretty much only talk about raising taxes — but never look for ways to hold back on spending.

And year after year, no one puts forward a logical compromise on Capitol Hill that combines the two.

So the red ink continues to mount, with no end in sight.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com