One way to blow $630 billion

In congressional parlance, a continuing resolution is usually described as a stopgap funding measure allowing the government to continue functioning while Congress catches up on its required financial paperwork.

In fact, a continuing resolution is a legislative surrender document. The lawmakers, conceding that they can’t finish their work in the allotted nine months, just give up and go home. The Republicans did it and now the Democrats are doing it.

Congress’ one real duty every year is to pass the 12 annual spending bills that pay to operate the government for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The House and Senate failed to do so, yet again.

The lawmakers, anxious to get home and campaign, then wrap all the unfinished business into one, huge, unwieldy bill that pushes everything off until next year. This resolution is typical of the breed — a 357-page, $630 billion spending measure, including $488 billion for the Pentagon, backed up by 752 pages of explanations and supporting documents. No lawmaker will have time to study the bill in its entirety before the vote.

When the Democrats regained control of Congress after the 2006 election, they promised that the appropriations process would be open, transparent and earmark-free. The House leadership put this bill together in secret and, it turns out, loaded it with earmarks, lawmakers’ pet projects that avoid the normal budget process. In the short time, the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense had to examine the bill, it found $6.6 billion worth of earmarks.

The whole point of a continuing resolution is that it is must-pass legislation so no one objects to strenuously to loading up the bill with provisions that they might otherwise oppose. The Democrats caved to the Republicans and allowed the ban on offshore oil and gas drilling expire — the ban was a political loser this year in any case — and fiscal conservatives who think the government is already too much involved in the economy didn’t much object to a $25 billion low interest loan to Detroit to develop the next generation of cars.

Technically, the appropriations battles could be re-fought next spring when the resolution expires but by then everybody’s sick of the whole resolution and eager to get on with the business of falling behind on the next round of spending bills. Oct. 1 rolls around so fast.

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