Photo by George Lauby
Sen. Ben Nelson
There’s been a rumor going around that says the Senate has now gone about 1,000 days since passing a budget resolution. What the rumor mongers aren’t aware of or are not telling people is that last year, instead of a budget resolution, the Senate and the House passed, and the President signed, a budget control law.
Frankly I actually do not think the Budget Control Act is a particularly sound law outside of the spending caps it enforces. The law was created under duress by House Republican leadership in order to get their Member’s support for an increase in the debt ceiling. Regardless of my distaste for a great deal of the law, the spending caps it includes are positive and serve effectively as a budget resolution.
Fact versus myth
It’s true that we did not adopt a Budget Resolution last year. But what is a budget resolution? What is its purpose? A budget resolution is essentially a congressional document that never becomes law and its central function is to establish a discretionary spending cap usually just for one year at a time.
Instead of a Budget Resolution, last year, Congress adopted the Budget Control Act which is an actual law passed in both houses and signed by the President which set out 10 years of spending caps and saves $900 billion in that time.
It’s a myth to say Congress does not have a budget. We do -- we effectively have one for a decade.
I have voted repeatedly for what were termed the so-called “Sessions-McCaskill” 5-year spending caps, named after the sponsors of the bill, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The Budget Control Act goes even further than that legislation and it appropriately caps spending in acknowledgement that discretionary spending has to be restrained in order to deal with our nation’s debt and deficit.
Budget Control Act
In addition to setting a decade’s worth of spending caps, the Budget Control Act required a vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment I sponsored with my colleague Mark Udall of Colorado.
It increased the debt ceiling and set up the so-called Super Committee. The Super Committee was charged to find $1.2 trillion in additional savings or else that amount of savings will occur automatically through what’s called a “sequester.” The Super Committee did not come to agreement and a sequester of more than $100 billion is set to occur in 2013.
Regardless of the weaknesses of the Budget Control Act, it does, indisputably, set Congress’s spending limits for 10 years.
Many of the Members who want to use the budget resolution process as a wedge issue know they are being intellectually dishonest, but that isn’t a huge shock in this environment.
There are many, many serious problems Congress has to think about in order to address the debt imbalance. Should entitlements be fundamentally reformed? Should we overhaul the tax code? How should we pay for wars in the future? How should we pay for natural disaster reconstruction in the future?
There are plenty of difficult questions to answer and any number of failings in Congress that people can legitimately point to. But the fact is that we do have a budget and I hope my colleagues will see fit to get serious in this time when there is no more room for the type of partisanship that stirs up this type of false argument in the first place.