Saturday, March 23, 2013

Continuing Resolution is real, Budget is show

The TV news had been full of budget talk, the Ryan budget, the Senate budget, the White House budget, and who passed what.  They are threatening to withhold Senate salaries unless the Senate gets its act together and passes a budget.  The newsies love this story and give it a lot of air play. 
  The budget story, while entertaining, isn't all that important.  A budget just expresses hopes.  Budgets do NOT allocate money, authorize spending,  authorize programs or hiring or retention of federal employees.  The budget just says "We want spending to be so much, taxes to be hiked so much, and we will only run a deficit so big."  Worthy thoughts, but  of no real effect.
   Taxes will be what they were last year unless Obama musters enough votes for a tax hike.  Spending on "entitlements"  (Medicare, Medicaid, social security, pensions,and some other stuff)  will be what it will be.  Social Security will write checks  to all those eligible, Medicare and Medicare will cover the medical bills of all those who go to their doctors, pensions will get paid.   This happens automatically, or at least til the money runs out.  The rest of federal spending is "discretionary"  meaning Congress must pass a law authorizing the spending of tax payer money.  Discretionary is Defense, Justice, State,  HUD, Homeland Security, Energy, EPA, Agriculture, FAA, FCC, Highway Trust Fund, and a bunch more.
   In the old days, Congress would pass a  separate law (appropriation bill) for each discretionary organization.  This process was bogging down even back in the 1960's.  Appropriations bills were always late.  USAF in those days never knew what it could spend until the very last day of the fiscal year.  Each year the start of the new fiscal year was rolled back a month to give Congress more time to wrangle over appropriation bills.  Eventually Congress got so late that they skipped an entire fiscal year.
  It got so bad that the new fiscal year would start but Congress hadn't passed any appropriation bills at all.  In order to prevent a total shutdown, Congress passed a "Continuing Resolution" that year which said "All you agencies can spend what you spent last year, with a few little changes here and there. "
  Continuing Resolutions have the advantage of being filibuster proof.  While hard core senators could hold up appropriations for this department or that department, they never had the stones to hold up the entire federal government.   And, it's very difficult to figure out just how much money is going where.  You have to know what the appropriations were when the last appropriations bill was passed, (ancient history) and work in all the ups and downs from all the subsequent continuing resolutions.  Doing this is a life's work.  Congressmen just vote to pass the thing.  They don't really know where the money is going.
   Anyhow, the last continuing resolution expires at the end of March.  A few WashPo articles claim that Congress passed another continuing resolution that carries us forward to September.  Fox News said (once) that the continuing resolution includes the famous "sequester" budget cuts.  Let's hope so.
  September will be here, real soon, and they will have to pass yet another continuing resolution.  "Cuts" only take effect if they get included in the continuing resolution.   

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