Opinion: Congress dithers while the red ink grows

Back in January when Republicans took charge of the U.S. House, I wrote that you should root for Congress to change its ways on the federal budget. That hasn’t happened.

As the House returns next week, Republicans still can’t agree with each other on how much to spend in 2024, let alone on the policy details.

“The American people didn’t send us to Washington to continue the status quo,” declared U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, who has threatened to vote against a temporary funding plan — risking a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, has taken a different path. She won’t vote to keep the government open unless she gets an impeachment inquiry against President Biden.

Those September shutdown threats have fallen flat with GOP Senators.

“If you look at prior shutdowns, Republicans basically gave in and nothing was accomplished,” U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters this week.

The all-too-familiar threats of fiscal brinkmanship from the GOP are also a reminder that House Republicans are far behind on their budget and spending work.

Congress is supposed to pass a budget outline by April 15. House Republicans never even tried to set out those details this year.

While the House Appropriations Committee started work on the 12 government funding bills, that work stalled on the House floor in July — after Republicans passed one spending bill for 2024.

Instead of sticking around in August to figure out a way forward, the GOP House went on a six-week vacation.

Not since 1996 — when Georgia’s Newt Gingrich was Speaker — has Congress finished its funding work by Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends. Both parties have failed, and this year will be no different.

The federal deficit for all of 1996 was just $107 billion. This year, the federal deficit could hit $2 trillion — a terrible figure in a time of economic growth.

We can all agree on one thing — yearly deficits of $2 trillion were bad under Donald Trump, and they are bad under Joe Biden. But there’s no plan to fix it.

Republicans have talked about going back to discretionary spending levels in 2022, to cut about $150 billion. That still leaves a huge deficit for 2024.

As for Democrats, they don’t have many deficit answers apart from raising taxes. But at least they want to pay for government programs, while Republicans just keep spending without balancing the budget.

Big deficits aren’t acceptable. Shutdown threats don’t work. Tough choices must be made by both parties. We all know that. Meanwhile, the red ink just keeps flowing.

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

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