Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - The budget deficit will be nearly $1 trillion this year, our debt is headed toward $17 trillion, Congress's approval polls are at 13 percent, and our lawmakers are on a two-week Spring Break.

A very wise observer of government once said that "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session." If that's true, the longer our lawmakers are out of town, the better off we'll be.

When an irate Boston constituent once complained at a town hall meeting that members of Congress don't seem to work very hard, the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill joked, "It beats heavy lifting."

According to the work schedule released by House GOP leaders in January, lawmakers, who are paid $174,000 a year plus generous health and pension benefits, will be in session for a grand total of 126 days this year.

That's pretty good money for a part-time job that's often relieved by recesses, two week seasonal breaks that are now described as "district work periods," and a string of other holidays that can last for a week or more. For the average, 40-hour-a-week worker, the idea of taking off the month of August seems, well, a bit excessive.

Especially when vacationing lawmakers leave behind a pile of unfinished work on which life, liberty and prosperity, and, indeed, our country's future, depends.

We still haven't gotten a firm handle on the government's monster $1 trillion budget deficit -- the fifth one in a row for President Obama who never met a spending bill he didn't like. We've been borrowing that much or more every year in order to pay the bills for national security, entitlements, food stamps, unemployment benefits and hundreds of other programs both large and small.

This adds to the government's ballooning debt that has risen by $6 trillion since Obama took office, and will likely leap to $20 trillion by the time he leaves office in January 2017.

There's been some modest progress of late. Budgets for fiscal 2014 were not only passed in both chambers of Congress, this was the Senate's first budget in four years. It was getting to be a great deal harder for the Democrats to blame Republicans for the budget impasse when they refused to produce one of their own.

Unfortunately, the competing spending blueprints they produced are about as far apart as Earth is from Neptune.

The House bill, shaped by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, would end the deficits and balance the budget through $5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. It would reform entitlements to bring their costs in line with future beneficiary growth, block grant Medicaid to the states and repeal Obamacare.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.