If you have a normal life with the normal American preoccupations, you probably didn’t notice the House action. Nonetheless, it was a significant event, and not just because it’s very likely the last major bill Congress will enact before the election.
Without that bill — technically called a continuing resolution — the government would shut down Oct. 1, the start of its fiscal year. And the House measure passed, 329-91, with support from the normally rambunctious GOP freshmen and even some members from the party’s Tea Party wing.
The Associated Press said it represented “a retreat by Tea Party Republicans, since the stopgap measure permits spending at a pace that’s $19 billion above the stringent budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.) his party’s vice presidential nominee.”
In fact, Ryan broke off from the campaign trail to return to Washington — and voted for the measure.
If Congress weren’t so dysfunctional, this stopgap measure wouldn’t have been necessary. The government is funded by 12 appropriations bills that are supposed to be passed by late summer, mid-September at the latest. Rarely does Congress meet that deadline. This year, the House passed seven of them; the Senate, abysmally, none. There is plenty of blame to go around. And during the run-up to the election, the campaigning lawmakers will spend plenty of time spreading it.
In their nearly two years as the dominant force among House Republicans, the freshmen have used the threat of voting against must-pass measures — such as the increase in the debt limit — to try to force changes they back, typically steep cuts in the budget.
But cooler heads in the party decided that the last thing the GOP needed on the eve of an election was to be perceived as obstructionist. As the newspaper Politico observed, “Despite all their pledges to fight against Washington, they’ve come around to one Capitol Hill truism: We’ll do it after the election.”
One congressional observer said the House’s quiet acquiescence in the continuing resolution was a sign that “the House Republicans are growing up.”
Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Senate has gone roughly 1,000 days without passing a budget, an incredible act of negligence.
Next, the two parties have to come back after the election and deal with $110 billion in automatic budget cuts next year that they imposed on themselves as an incentive to reach a deficit-reduction agreement. And they also must deal with the expiring Bush tax cuts.
This is the “fiscal cliff” Congress faces. The parties must join hands and walk back from it or join hands and jump off of it.