If one were to count how many times in the last 40 years Congress has passed -- on time -- all the appropriation bills necessary to keep the government running and avoid a government “shutdown,” you would need but one hand. Only four times in four decades (1976, 1988, 1994, and 1996) didCongress successfully manage to complete the task for which the Constitution grants it exclusive power – appropriating the monies needed to fund all federal agencies and programs.
This inability or unwillingness to do its job speaks volumes about the lack of leadership and resolve by what our Founders considered to be the most important of the three branches of the government created more than two and a quarter centuries ago.
A major factor in this congressional lethargy is the rise of special interests. Special interest groups have long wielded significant influence during the appropriations process; but their impact in this era of legislative somnambulism and massive federal spending – now at some $3.7 trillion -- has become particularly pronounced. Time and again, special interests have flexed their muscle to stall the appropriation process by turning small issues into major partisan battles.
Last week, for example, Congress passed yet another short-term spending bill so as to narrowly avoid a government “shutdown.” Yet even here, this so-called “last resort” was not certain to pass, due to bellyaching from the Michigan delegation that its local community of Flint was not getting the cut of federal tax dollars it felt it deserved, when compared to flood victims elsewhere in West Virginia, Louisiana, and Maryland. Last minute negotiations by congressional leaders, including the promise of additionalspending-to-come for Michigan, was needed to overcome the partisan wrangling over “Flint” and keep the government operating. This “crisis” followed earlier hissy fits over Zika funding and Planned Parenthood restrictions.
There was a time in which there were clear differences between the majority of Republicans and the vast majority of Democrats regarding federal spending levels and priorities. However, those differences have largely disappeared -- lost in the fog of fiscal indifference that now prevails in both Chambers of Congress. The fact that the Democrats are at least honest about their desire to keep open the spigot of federal spending at all costs, is of little solace when compared to the manner in which the GOP time and again caves in to Doomsday cries that failure to keep that faucet wide open will haunt them on election day.
The consequences of this fiscal irresponsibility by the Congress extend far beyond the appropriations process. The legislative graveyard at the end of every Congress increasingly is littered with legislative measures that should have been – but were not – acted on. This year was no different, except perhaps in the magnitude of Congress’ failure.
By failing to pass a measure to stop the Obama Administration from making good on its plan to cede control of the internet from the United States to an international nonprofit organization, the Republican-controlled Congress gave up, without so much as a whimper, global leadership over the most important communications network in modern times.
The Obama Administration’s unilateral (and now, irreversible) decision transfers control over the free internet to a private entity over which the United States has minimal, if any influence; leaving the door open to countries like Iran, Russia, China and Syria to exert “public policy” input on the manner by which the internet is managed.
While the Democrat Party lauds itself as the champion of “free speech,” nary one of its members called for a “sit in” to protest the Administration’s plan to potentially stifle the freedom heretofore fostered by America’s control of the internet. For its part, the GOP was largely silent in the face of Obama’s assault on a free internet; unlike its repeated and very vocal opposition to Obamacare.
There were a few courageous members of Congress who stood up and challenged the assault on a free internet orchestrated by Obama – led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Unfortunately, Cruz and his stalwart band were drowned out in the end by fears that standing up for internet freedom might endanger the Flint spending deal and a billion dollars in taxpayer funding for the Zika scare. And, they simply did not have the votes to counter plaintive cries of “free us so we can go home to campaign” by so many of their feckless colleagues. Go home to campaign now they can, but not with heads held high.