Is the country’s budget process broken? Stan Collender sits down with Chuck Conconi on this week’s episode of Focus Washington to discuss the ins and outs of the budget process and prospects for compromise under the next administration.
As general election season approaches and the country hones in on the two likely nominees for the race, the differences between a Trump budget or a Clinton budget merits discussion. Collender points out that, however, that regardless of who will next sit in the Oval Office, the process goes beyond the total authority of the President; Clinton or Trump, the responsibility of passing a budget will still be with a split congress, making the chances of four more years of budget stalemate high.
Although budget jargon and process may be beyond reach for most Americans, Collender explains that the process is, in reality, very simple. Put in place in 1974, there are three steps: The President submits a proposed budget, Congress passes a Budget Resolution in response, and this is followed by Reconciliation with existing legislation. However, due to the inability of Congress to agree on budget priorities and the subsequent failure to pass a Budget Resolution, the process has broken down every step of the way.
Collender recently testified in a Senate Budget Committee hearing on just this subject. As he recounted to Chuck, “I told them this process is broken down and it’s broken down because you have refused to implement it, so the idea you’re holding a hearing now to talk about better ways to implement it is crazy. I called it the fiscal equivalent of chutzpah.”
Of course, compromise has been reached before. Bill Clinton’s administration proved that it can be done. Now, however, a different political climate exists in the country, and Congress effectively holds the budget hostage when it refuses to participate in negotiations. “I’m not optimistic, but it’s not about the budget process. Congress doesn’t need it, they have all the power they need in the constitution, they can do whatever they want–the problem is they can’t agree on what they want to do, and until that happens, you’ll never get a budget process either enacted or actually implemented,” Collender explained.
After all, Congress didn’t even look at the President’s budget request this year. The failure of the budget process reflects the highly partisan nature of politics today. As Stan Collender points out, a lack of coherent priorities or decisions by the legislative branch paralyzes the fiscal policy of the nation – and this is a fact that is not likely to change in the coming four years.
Viewers of President Obama’s second press conference in the first 60 days of his Administration might well have wondered whatever happened to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would have been a good question, since in the nearly one-hour press conference there were only two questions dealing with foreign affairs – one referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the other concerning tougher security along the border with Mexico where President Calderon is bravely battling deadly drug cartels.
It was Obama at his most professorial – articulate, well-informed, careful, and unflappable. It probably wasn’t surprising that most of the questions concerned the dismal economy and the battle that is looming over his first budget proposal. The only time his “no-drama Obama” persona slipped a little, was when CNN’s Ed Henry asked why he had waited several days to public express his frustration after finding out about the excessive AIG bonuses. His terse response was, “I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”
The Obama budget was clearly the subject of the day with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) describing it earlier in the day as what “may be the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my legislative career.” And to make matters worse for the president, his own party, led by North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committed, made it known that there would be a major hacking away of programs Obama wanted. The economy and his budget are ongoing issues that will measure the success or failure of his Administration.
It is also true that the unasked questions about Iraq and Afghanistan will come up again and will measure his tenure in the White House. The one question concerning security along the border and the ongoing battle Mexican President Calderon is fighting against the threatening and dangerous drug cartels, is especially significant. Obama clearly understands the importance of his relations with Mexico, a reliable and trusted neighbor. When Obama was asked about the possible spillover of violence from Mexico into the United States, he was quick to respond:
“We are sending millions of dollars in additional equipment to provide more effective surveillance. We are providing hundreds of additional personal that can help control the border, deal with customs issues. We are coordinating very effectively with the Mexican government and President Calderon, who has taken on an extraordinarily difficult task dealing with these drug cartels that have gotten completely out of hand.”
The President also spoke of this country’s responsibility in assisting President Calderon, who, he point out, “has been very courageous.” Obama explained that “even as he (Calderon) is doing more to deal with the drug cartels sending drugs into the United States, we need to do more to make sure that illegal guns and cash aren’t flowing back to these cartels. That’s part of what’s financing their operations. That’s part of what’s arming them. That’s what makes it so dangerous. And this is something that we take very seriously, and we’re going to continue to work on diligently in the months to come.”
The drug wars along the Mexican-U.S. border may not have the resonance the unasked questions about Iraq and Afghanistan have had, but they are also significant to the well-being of this country. The president recognizes that the drug cartels are not just a Mexican problem and he understanding that the money and weapons supporting these violent, criminal elements come from the United States. His commitment was that President Calderon is not in this fight alone. This is as important a war as those we are waging in the Middle East and in Asia.