Opinions

Breaking the budget logjam

Olympia Snowe is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and co-chairs its Commission on Political Reform. A Republican, she was a U.S. senator from Maine from 1995 to 2013. Karen Hughes, also a member of the commission, is worldwide vice chair of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. She was undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2005 to 2007.

Government by brinkmanship is not working for our country. Lurching from deadline to deadline and crisis to crisis erodes the confidence of the American people, the business community and the world. There is no reason for Congress to postpone budget action until arbitrary deadlines in January and February. It can and should start returning to functionality by completing a House-Senate budget conference report by the Dec. 13 deadline, raising the debt ceiling and funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.

This return to “regular order” — Congress passing a budget and legislating through committees in a timely manner throughout the year — is one of the issues examined by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform.

Gallery

The commission, on which we serve, plans to release comprehensive reform recommendations next year and to galvanize public support behind the proposals. We aim to build a grass-roots groundswell for addressing the structural issues that prevent government from working for the good of the American people.

Many of these impediments make it harder for members of both parties to work together or even to fulfill Congress’s fundamental responsibilities. Over the nearly 40-year history of the Budget Act, Congress has failed only eight times to fulfill its most basic function: producing a budget. But seven of those occasions have occurred since the beginning of this century. No budget has been adopted in more than four years. Further, as of Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2013, none of the 12 annual appropriations bills had been passed. Instead, missed deadlines, threats of defunding, eleventh-hour temporary deals, supercommittees, ad hoc “gangs” of legislators and showdowns between party leaders have replaced the democratic process of legislating and building consensus.

As Republicans, we believe that our party can embrace a functioning federal government without abandoning key GOP priorities. Doing so would demonstrate to the country that the Republican Party believes in responsible governing, including funding defense and other priorities. In fact, clearing the deck of the debt-ceiling and fiscal-year funding distractions should allow a national focus on the key Republican goals of reducing the huge debt burden being placed on our children, making our bloated tax code both fairer and simpler and reforming our immigration system.

We understand the frustrations of those who have watched government grow larger and more costly without experiencing any appreciable improvement in their daily lives. At the same time, we are concerned that a scorched-earth approach to governing does a disservice to the credibility of our party and, most important, to our collective ability to effectively address our nation’s most pressing problems. The Republican Party includes millions of small-business people, farmers, factory and office workers and other hardworking Americans. They live on budgets and expect our national government to do the same. We want a limited federal government but one that is effective in meeting our nation’s monumental challenges.

To ensure that Congress effectively addresses the budget stalemate before the new deadlines and to allow lawmakers to move forward to other important issues, we suggest:

●Crafting an agreement authorizing a new budget and taking the debt limit off the table for the remainder of the fiscal year. This would give Congress and the administration 10 months to focus on other crucial matters, such as tax and entitlement reform, immigration and education.

●Leaders of both the House and Senate should cancel all recesses and institute five-day workweeks. Right now, Congress is scheduled to be in session fewer than 20 days before the end of the year.

The abysmal approval ratings of Congress and the White House reflect the disgust the American people feel at the way all sides have approached these critical matters.

More than six out of 10 Americans said in a recent poll that what’s happening in Washington makes them feel less confident about the economy improving. Gallup has found that 33 percent of Americans said dysfunctional government was the biggest problem facing the country. In Gallup’s polling since 1939, Washington has never been more concerning to Americans.

We believe that Republicans and Democrats must work together to restore the American people’s faith in our governing institutions. We must find ways to give hope to Americans of all political views that economic growth, job creation, strong defense and debt reduction are being addressed. We believe that this will require reforms to a system that is not working — and that those reforms cannot come soon enough.

 
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