The “dead cat” lies at the door of the Congress when it comes to budgeting and appropriating. It’s broken under the dome.

According to the latest Real Clear Politics poll, 17 percent of those surveyed approve of the way the Congress is doing its work. More telling, 63 percent disapprove of the way the Congress is running the country. It’s due mostly because the public sees Congress’s inability to perform the basic tasks of budgeting and appropriating.

It should work this way: In the early first quarter of the year, the president sends his budget for the upcoming fiscal year to the Congress. Both the House Senate debate, amend and pass a “Budget Resolution.” This does not require the signature of the president. It is an internal working document of the federal legislative branch.

Under the provisions of the Budget Act of 1974, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees receive the overall funding allocation for the upcoming fiscal year. Then those committees make an allocation to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees in each chamber.

The appropriations process begins with each subcommittee considering how to spend its allocation. They go through a process called “marking up” their bill. Once done, the full committee reviews the subcommittees’ work and may make changes.

From there, the bills go to their respective chambers for further consideration and amendment. Once the House and Senate have passed their versions of the budget, select members of each house go to conference and produce what is called a “conference report,” which is not amendable. After both chambers pass the conference report, that is what’s sent to the president for his signature or veto.

This process is supposed approve 12 separate appropriations bills by midnight of Sept. 30, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year.

The process gives each House and Senate member ample opportunity to have their views and priorities considered. It works best and produces the best legislation for the country when the Congress can focus on each of the 12 bills separately and get them passed and signed into law prior to Sept. 30.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Congress mostly followed this process.

Where we are today is that the current and recent Congresses have become sloppy with the process, joining some of the 12 bills together (five or six) and creating monstrous pieces of legislation called “Omnibus Appropriations Bills,” some over a thousand pages long. It is impossible for each member and staff to know exactly what is in them.

Smaller groupings of appropriations (two or three) bills are called “Minibuses.” Even then, it is very difficult to know their contents adequately.

What’s worse is getting to the end of the fiscal year without Congress completing its work and forcing the passage of “continuing resolutions” which keep the federal government open and running albeit at the prior fiscal year’s spending levels.

This results in a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money, with a misappropriation of federal revenue that each of us pay into the federal government. This is a bipartisan problem. Members and staff on both sides of the aisle share equal responsibility.

If Congress can’t do the basics, then how can it be expected to consider other pressing domestic and international issues, especially when the world looks to the United States for leadership. It’s hard to lead the world when our government is reduced to saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” We must “do what we say.”

What’s the solution? Citizens should demand that the House and Senate strictly adhere to the separate consideration of each of the 12 appropriations bills. You can better examine a 12-car train by looking in each car rather than the entire train all at once. The taxpayers should demand this. Congress needs to do its work on time and meet its fiscal deadlines, just like each of us must meet on April 15.

Unless and until the Congress properly manages this process, we will continue to have train wreck upon train wreck, where we all are left with the cleanup.

Wayne Boyles, of Pinehurst, served on the staffs of Senator Mack Mattingly and Senator JBYesse Helms, and in the administration of President George W. Bush.

(5) comments

Jim Hart

First of all to Mr. Misegades. Your response is so typical of the overwhelming majority who simply do not understand how government works, or even how it was designed to work. You dont have a clue as to what it would take to get to your "solution". And to Mr. Cook, why am I not surprised that a die hard Republican's answer to the entire budget mess is cut spending. What a joke! I always thought you had more common sense than that. Yes, spending can be cut...but there is no way spending alone will take care of the problem. You typify the exact problem in Washington. No compromise, no effort to achieve acceptable public policy.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, formed in 2010 and headed by NC's own Erskine Bowles and Senator Alan Simpson, recognized the need for compromise and working together to achieve a reduced deficit. Without going into detail, spending was cut by over a trillion dollars and revenues were increased by nearly a trillion and the debt would be reduced by $4 trillion by 2014, a full 60% by 2023 and the remaining 40% by 2035. This grand bargain fell apart, however, because of a "no compromise" mentality of both parties. You will not get the Democrats to vote for spending cuts without the Republicans voting for revenue increases, and vice versa, and that does not take into consideration the unnecessary and deficit exploding Trump tax cuts that truly benefit the wealthy. Those cuts will never be paid for, Peyton, and will only cause higher debt. You know that.

When you are ready to really start to solve the problem, because you are no where close to that position now, let me know. I would love to have a genuine, honest, and productive discussion with you about that.

WHile the general public says they want a balanced budget, they don't have a clue as to what it would take to get there, and I can assure you, they would not have an appetite for the concessions EVERYONE would have to make.

If you think for one second all you have to do is wave your magic wand and cut spending to achieve deficit and debt reduction, you are delusional.

Lets get real and get serious about this, the most potentially destructive problem this country faces.

Peyton Cook

I stand by my comments. The private sector creates wealth which the Federal Government consumes by taxation. Leaving more wealth in the private sector through tax cuts creates even more wealth, which increases income available to the Government. Liberals want to grow Government, Conservatives want smaller, less intrusive Government. Under Obama, the debt grew by about nine trillion and you heard little criticism from the Left. All of a sudden many have become deficit hawks, even though revenues have grown due to the booming economy because of the tax cuts. TheFederal bureaucracy has little incentive to cut out waste and misuse of funds, because they want to spend every dime appropriated. If they don’t funds might be reduced in the next budget. The bottom line is that Liberals want more government, Conservatives do not. One last point is that the only thing Government does reasonably well is National Defense. Most everything else would be better run and less costly managed in the private sector.

Mark Hayes

Appears to me the expectation of 2035 is just about right, so fortunate to have those among us with such vision into the future.

Kent Misegades

Much too complicated. Simply require a surplus of 5% annually, all of which goes to pay down the national debt. Cut the size of government in half and slash government pensions. Problem solved.

Peyton Cook

There is not a revenue problem, but there is a spending problem. The Federal Executive Is too large, too cumbersome, and too intrusive of State powers. It could probably by reduced in size by at least 30% and even more. There are Departments, such as Education and Commerce. There are redundant training programs, etc. Congress has not been doings it’s job for many years and there doesn’t seem to be any intent to do so. The real problem is voters who do not pay attention and continue to elect the same individuals who do not work for them. I do call my Representative and Senators frequently on issues such as this. Not enough others do.

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