Deliberation or Incompetence?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

As we rapidly approach yet another budget crisis, a growing question is whether the actions of the Democrats in Washington are the result of some sort of deliberation, or are they simply a matter of incompetence?

Some will probably complain that I am I am not including the Republicans in this question, but while they are certainly deserving of some criticism, they are not the major problem at the moment. The start of the new fiscal year is approaching but there is little chance that Congress will have its work done on time.  So as government in Washington lurches from one crisis to the next, the economy continues to struggle, and people suffer.

The process is really pretty simple.  The law requires that the House and Senate each produce a budget, and then based on the budget, the various committees write appropriation bills.  The bills are then passed by both houses, and a joint committee works out any differences between them.  Once the final bills are passed they go to the President.  While a pretty simply process, it is one that was pretty much ignored by the Democrats when they controlled the entire Congress, and is still being ignored in the democratically controlled Senate.

The last time the Congress passed all of the required appropriation bills was, coincidentally 2006, the last time Congress was under the control of the Republicans.   Under the Democrats, the law, and in fact most of Congress, was just ignored.  Government was run by the leadership through continuing resolutions.

Whatever criticism there may be for the Republicans in the House, they passed a budget earlier this year. Democrats in the Senate have not, even though they are required to do so by law.  Not only did they not pass one, they have not even proposed one, have no plans to do so, and it is coming up on 900 days since they have done so.

Thus while House Republicans have passed their budget and have already passed 6 of the required 12 appropriations bills, with 3 more already through the appropriations committee, their Democratic counterparts have no budget and have passed no appropriation bills. In fact, they have only gotten one out of the appropriations committee.

The new fiscal year starts in October, so why can’t the Democrats complete what should be one of their most basic functions, writing the appropriation bills that fund the government?   Are they really looking for yet another shutdown showdown with Congressional Republicans?

If so, this would say that their failure to do their job is deliberate; a calculated ploy to use the threat of a government shutdown in an effort to gain a political advantage.  At first blush, this would seem incredibly misguided.  To avoid a shutdown both houses of Congress simply need to do their job and get all 12 appropriation bills to the President before the beginning of the fiscal year.  When Republicans have done their part, but Democrats have failed to do theirs, how could the Democrats successfully expect to blame the Republicans?

Easy! Democrats can count on the major news outlets to take their side.  Annoying little facts, such as the Democrats have not even passed a budget in several years will just be ignored. Annoying little details such as if the Democrats had appropriation bills the difference between their bills and the Republicans could be worked out, will likewise be ignored.  Instead, if the last several such crises are any indication all the “news coverage” will focus on Republican intransigence and how they are constrained by the Tea Party from doing what is in “the best interests of the country.”

Democrats get another huge benefit from all this, which may indicate that this is deliberate:  Secrecy.  With no budget, there is no way to know or criticize the “Democratic plan” simply because there is no plan.  With no appropriation bills, there is no way to criticize Democratic spending plans because there are no plans.  Thus Democrats can attack Republican plans, while hiding behind platitudes and slogans until the time has run out and the crisis is upon us.  Then they cannot say what their plan is because they are in the middle of negotiations with Republicans.

Normally negotiations proceed with both sides setting forth a starting position, and then the negotiations are over what concessions from their respective starting points each side will make.  Boehner likened negotiating with White house to “dealing with Jell-O” and it is little wonder.  Since Democrats do not have a plan, there is no starting point from which they can make concessions.

Finally when a deal is struck, Democrats can take credit for all the parts they like, and blame the rest on Republicans, again without ever having to develop an actual coherent plan of their own. Thus there are plenty of reasons to believe that our current government-by-crisis is a deliberate strategy on the part of Democrats.

But however effective the strategy, it is not good for the country, and given the polls, it does not even seem to be working all that well for the Democrats.    By failing to actually put forth a plan, there is the real question as to whether or not Democrats actually understand the serious situation we are in.   It is one thing to run around talking about the Bush tax cuts “for the rich” and complaining about corporate jets, but quite another to put forth an actual coherent plan that would address the problems that the country faces.

Forcing Republicans to compromise on their plans, such as with the debt limit, may be politically advantageous, but it is not itself a solution. So while Obama and the Democrats successfully blocked the Republican plan to Cut, Cap and Balance, the result was that the country’s credit was downgraded.

Even worse, democracy depends on openness. Proposals are put forth, debated and modified. Bills are written in committees and debated on the floor before being passed.  But under the Democrats everything was kept secret. The committee process was basically ignored, and thousand page bills were given to members to vote on before they even knew what was in them.  “You have to pass the bill to know what is in it,” ruled.

If this is all deliberate, then the Democrats are crassly failing to do their jobs for their own selfish interests.  If that is not putting their own interests ahead of the country’s, I do not know what would be.   On the other hand, this could simply be a matter of utter incompetence.  Either way, we can look for another crisis towards the end of September, as a government shutdown looms, though they might decide to postpone this till after the budget committee setup after the last crisis finished their work towards the end of the year by passing yet another continuing resolution.

Aug 23rd, 2011

Comments are closed.