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You Can't Spend What You Can't See

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Although it hasn't made much news, what with the world missing a Pope, the Senate missing an on-the-floor bathroom, Venezuela missing a President, and President Hamid Karzai missing a press conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; but President Barack Obama has missed the deadline for producing a budget document for the United States.

It's not as if the whole government spending thing hasn't been a big deal in Washington. You might have been following along as Republicans and Democrats have been not just disagreeing with one another about how to cut the deficit from its present $16.5 trillion, but they have been speaking a completely different language.

Current law requires that the President submit a budget between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February. Although the "first Monday" has be redefined as the first week in February we are now entering the second full week in March and there is no budget coming from the White House and we have been told that we shouldn't expect one before the second week in April.

I know that there hasn't been a director of the Office of Management and Budget (the organization that prepares the budget document) and that the President only got around to nominating someone to fill that role (Sylvia Mathews Burwell) last week, but the President isn't into the 6th week of his Presidency; he's been at this now for 214 weeks and he should have known (a) there was a vacancy at OMB and (b) the budget was due.

Ms. Burwell will not be able to get up to full speed between now and the time the actual document has to go to the Government Printing Office for production, so don't let anyone tell you Obama needed to wait for someone to be nominated for the OMB job.

There's no mystery as to why there isn’t a budget. The Congress, the press, the cable chat show, and talk radio hosts can't pick on one item in the 3-400 page document to who how profligate the Administration is without the actually document.

The White House has been wonderfully successful in formulating the budget debate around raising more money from more people in order to spend even more money on more projects.

In this usage, "more people" does not include those whom we consider to be the "middle class" even though the "middle class" is getting socked with those renewed payroll taxes, with higher health care premiums (also a tax) and with hidden, but real tax increases on gasoline in Maryland and Virginia.

Without a formal budget document - at least prior to the expiration of the current Continuing Resolution that was signed by Obama on September 28, 2012 - two days before the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year.

That resolution funds the government until March 27 of this year - remember the federal fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. The House has already adopted a new continuing resolution to fund the government through September 30 of 2013 and are, again, waiting for the U.S. Senate to move.

The House resolution left intact the sequester cuts but included language allowing the Pentagon more flexibility to move money around as circumstances dictate to protect the nation.

It is likely that the Senate version - at least the version put forward by Senate Democrats - will first attempt to restore the sequester cuts (that will be denied by Senate Republicans) and will settle for leaving the cuts intact by expanding flexibility to non-Defense Departments and Agencies.

Senate Republicans will probably go along with that and send it back to the House just seconds before both chambers want to scurry out for the Easter Recess - remember they will have worked for nearly two straight weeks - so the House will be faced with the choice of accepting the Senate changes or having the entire Federal government shut down on March 28.

Again, having an actual budget request for the fiscal year that doesn't even begin for another six months would only, in the mind of Barack Obama, confuse and confound the members of the House and Senate so he is just holding onto it until the CR is adopted.

Put another way, the Congress can't spend - or refuse to spend - what it can't see.

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