Congress Needs To Do Their Job

September 26, 2011

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Yet again this last week, congress considered a funding bill. This one was to provide continuing budget to the office of emergency management. There was a great deal of talk, for anyone still interested in listening, about how there could be no opposition to this bill as it was to help the poor people suffering from the flooding in the north east. The bill failed, mostly because it was not just funding for the stated problem, but also because the flooding was minor compared to other disasters that have not been addressed by the federal government, notably the fires in Texas.

The problem is not that this bill failed. It is not even that this bill was proposed. The problem is that congress has failed to address a fundamental duty of that body. They have not passed a budget. This is now coming up on two years and two separate congresses that a budget has not been established.

Why is a budget so important? The budget establishes what the government will spend. Any new projects have to find funding. It allows the various contractors who support government programs plan staffing and activities. The largest of these that the press reports on is the military, but that is now less than a third of the budget. There are a large contingent of non-government workers supporting social and infrastructure programs as well. Without a budget, governmental departments are supposed to continue to spend at the level established the previous year, but some things, such as the medical program known as Obama Care, have never been baselined and are therefore not under any fiscal control.

What about the continuing resolution that was passed last month? Actually, that was a basic duck and roll. It was more about raising the debt limit than providing budgetary guidance to the departments. It was as surrender to the cry of imminent disaster. In fact, if the continuing resolution had not been passed and the debt limit had not been approved, the government would have continued pretty much without effect on 99% of people. There would have been mandatory reduction in all departments, social security would have continued without interruption (it is a separate tax) but the big effect would have been zeroing out spending on all non-baselined activities. Obama Care and any remaining funds I the bailouts would have been deleted. Basically, everything that the last two congresses have passed but not budgeted, would have been halted.

I am not going to discuss whether these projects should be funded, that is the debate that the congress has to have. What I am condemning is the apparent abdication of responsibility of the congress to pass a budget and hold the government to some sort of spending control.


We Could Have You Killed

January 22, 2010

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Although the idea for this story was quite obviously ripped from the headlines, this story is intended to be politically neutral.  You will notice that no party affiliations are mentioned, nor is the subject matter of the bill detailed.

One of the preeminent power brokers in Washington was chewing on a number two pencil with the severity of a hungry beaver, carving deep incisions into the wood.  Jeffrey Warner had a serious problem.  Even worse, it was a problem without an easy answer.

Warner knew that he had the support of fifty nine senators to vote for cloture and end the filibuster on the bill.  Not fifty eight, not sixty.  Precisely fifty nine.  Unless Warner could pick up another vote, the most important bill of a generation was going to die on the floor.

Warner snapped the weakened pencil in half and launched the pieces at the waste basket twenty feet away.  The stress of the situation was making him tired, exacerbating the lethargy that routinely took hold of his aging body at the end of a nineteen hour work day.  It was only eleven at night, but Senate majority leader Jeffrey Warner needed a nap.

When Warner awoke from his respite thirty four minutes later, the solution to his problem was fully formed.  He called a page and instructed him to track down Senator Byron Cooper.  A short while later, the long term senator stood before him.

“Byron,” began the leader, “I’d like your support on Senate Bill 1975.”

Cooper laughed in response.  “You know I can’t support that bill.  It goes against all my principles.”

“I could give you a hundred million dollars.”

“While my state could use those funds, it would be political suicide,” responded Cooper.

“We could have you killed, “ continued Warner, oblivious to the interruption.

Cooper jumped out of his chair in anger.  “We’ve had disagreements before, Warner, but threats of violence is a bridge too far!”

“Violence,” echoed Warner.  “I’m not talking about violence.  Sit down and let’s discuss this like gentlemen.”

A thoroughly confused and somewhat wary Byron Cooper returned to his seat.  He listened as Jeffrey Warner laid out a brilliant plan.

Byron Cooper was in a tough spot.  He was in a loveless marriage and had turned to booze and gambling to bring pleasure into his life.  Not surprisingly, he owed a fortune to gamblers.  The only thing that prevented him from having his legs broken by goons was the power that he held as a US Senator.  He wasn’t particularly fond of the job, but fought to hang on as if his life depended on it – because it probably did.

“This is your golden parachute, Byron,”  said Warner, as they parted ways an hour later.

Three days later, the Washington Post had a front page story about the car bombing that claimed the life of Senator Byron Cooper.  He was eulogized by his powerful friends in the Washington elite.  Days later, his mourning widow burst into tears as his casket was lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery.

When it came time for the governor to appoint someone to fill Byron Cooper’s spot in the senate, he chose a man who was very nearly the ideological opposite of Cooper.  This stirred up controversy, but the governor didn’t give a damn.  The new Senator mirrored his own beliefs, and that’s all that really mattered.

Six days later, the Senate voted for cloture.  Sixty senators – including the newly minted replacement senator – voted for cloture, and the filibuster was broken.  The bill passed the up-or-down vote with the exact same number of votes.  The president signed the bill into law on a cold day in late March.

The morning that the President signed the bill, Jeffrey Warner poured himself a generous amount of cognac from a bottle with a yellowed label.  Thirty four years after being elected to the Senate, Warner had finally seen the passage of his life’s work.

At the same time, an ocean away, another man was also enjoying a drink.  It was six hours later in the city of Nice, France.  The man formerly known as Byron Cooper had finished swimming a few laps in his heated indoor pool.  Cooper relaxed in the comfort of his sun room, basking in the warmth of an unseasonably warm day.  He stroked the beard on his surgically reconstructed chin and decided that he needed a drink.  He rang a small bell, and his butler raced into the room, carrying another piña colada.