Opinion: No pre-holiday rush for Congress

It certainly isn’t the best system, but lawmakers in Congress often get their work done only when there is a major deadline — like getting home for Christmas.

When it comes to budget work, that usually results in the approval of a giant ‘Omnibus’ spending bill, which wraps 12 government funding bills into one huge package, all dumped on lawmakers just before the holidays.

But this year will be different.

Unable to get their funding bills passed by an Oct. 1 deadline, House Republicans have taken that messy ‘Christmas Omnibus’ option off the table, all but guaranteeing that the work of Congress on spending rolls into next year.

“While this plan may seem a bit unorthodox, it significantly changes the status quo,” said U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, as Republicans celebrated the end of the year-end Omnibus.

The problem for House Republicans is that an internal rebellion by GOP conservatives has stalled work on next year’s funding bills, a dispute that forced lawmakers to go home early for Thanksgiving.

“The House Republican majority can ill-afford to waste another minute of legislating,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler.

Uncle Sam’s current temporary funding plan — designed by new U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson — sets up two new government shutdown deadlines in early 2024: one on Jan. 19, and the other on Feb. 2.

Think about it this way — if you give your kid until Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 to get something done, the chances are pretty slim that he or she will finish that work before Christmas.

Congress is no different. And that probably means the next few weeks will be filled with a lot of tough talk, and then everyone will go home for the holidays.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

“Let’s remember our deadline is October 1st, not Christmas,” the President told lawmakers in his State of the Union Address. “Let’s get the people’s work done in time to avoid a footrace with Santa Claus.”

That quote probably sounds recent, except it wasn’t. That was President Reagan, in his 1988 State of the Union Address, when he dropped a giant Omnibus funding bill on the desk in the House Chamber, demanding that lawmakers change their spending ways.

Congress did beat the Oct. 1 deadline in 1988, 1994, and 1996. But it hasn’t happened since, as both parties have failed miserably to do the nation’s budget work on time.

This year is no different, except we already know the government shutdown threats will be back after Christmas.

Why do now what you can put off until the New Year?

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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