Americans are debating the stalemate on the Continuing Resolution, sparring on Facebook and other social media. If you read some of the posts, even those by presumably educated people, it becomes clear that many of us are ignorant about government definitions, policies past and present, and spending in general. I’ve seen quite a few self-appointed authorities trip themselves up.
The current debate is not about the debt ceiling, although that discussion will begin in mid-October. President Barack Obama may have confused people by using terms like the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. What we are debating right now—what Sen. chief Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is so angry about—is the Continuing Resolution (CR).
I count myself among those who needed to know more, and in studying the present stalemate between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, I learned a few things:
*According to the U.S. Treasury Dept., “The deficit is the difference between the money Government takes in, called receipts, and what the Government spends, called outlays, each year.” The government just had a record year for revenue, partly because of tax hikes. Thus, the deficit would decrease in part simply because IRS took in more money. Despite that record increase, we still spend more than we take in.
*The continuing resolution is currently the hot potato in Washington, and the simplest definition comes from Bing, although there’s abundant commentary online about the CR: “Authority to spend before a budget passes; legislation that allows a government organization to operate while its budget is still yet to be approved.” That is one reason Reid’s Senate delayed even attempting a budget for years. Budgets are a topic of internecine debate among members within both parties, one reason Democrats didn’t cast a single ‘yes’ vote for Obama’s budget in 2012. That was the second Obama budget Dems didn’t cast a ‘yes’ on.
*We might not be having this partisan dispute if President Jimmy Carter’s attorney general hadn’t decided it was unconstitutional to continue to run the full government without a budget or CR. Prior to 1980, it was business as usual, even if the equivalents of Reid, a Democrat, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t agree on money matters.
*Regardless of the outcome of the current dispute, U.S. debt is projected to continue to grow. Debt is what we owe after spending more than we took in, even during a record year. Our debt is the result of deficits piled atop one another year after year. If spending continues at present levels, the fiscal conservatives at Heritage say debt will be 187 percent of GDP by 2035. That would be a very bad thing, one reason Boehner and his conservative party members are so rankled at the money the rest of the members on both sides of the aisle want to spend.
*Although President Obama has harangued Boehner about the spending bill, it’s useful to point out that Obama as senator voted against a debt ceiling increase in 2006 when a Republican held the White House. Obama said he opposed raising the debt limit and he called having to raise the ceiling a “failure of leadership.” There is no doubt Obama’s critics will remind him of that and other ‘nay’ or ‘no vote’ responses to various appropriations bills during his brief tenure in the U.S. Senate.
The current shutdown isn’t the first and it likely won’t be the last. It is not a complete “shutdown,” it’s more like a temporary suspension of mostly nonessential services. Considering story after story of waste, excess, and outright fraud related to taxpayer dollars and lack of accountability, there is one fairly good aspect to this “shutdown.” At the moment, Congress isn’t spending new money, but that of course is temporary.
You can count on Congress and our president to spend more once this dispute over the Continuing Resolution—not the upcoming debt ceiling debate—concludes.
(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Oct. 3, 2013)