In our opinion: It's déjà vu all over again with national fiscal policy

Published: Sunday, May 27 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, talks with House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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As we head into the summer months, the headlines seem eerily similar to last summer's. A eurozone debt crisis threatens global economic recovery. A springtime stock market rally has retreated. And, as the United States government comes closer to maxing out its borrowing authority, Republicans and Democrats in Washington can't agree on how to avoid a fiscal crisis.

Reruns may be all that's available for television programming, but it's terrible fare for national fiscal policy, especially when the harsh reality is that there is no national fiscal policy.

In February of this year, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner appeared before the House Budget Committee. When asked by the committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to describe the administration's plan to avert a debt crisis, Geithner replied, "We're not coming before you today to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem. What we do know is we don't like yours."

Geithner can like it or not, but Ryan's budget is the only budget that has been duly deliberated, voted on and passed by a chamber of Congress this year. It was the only one that passed a congressional chamber last year.

The last two budgets put forward by the Obama administration, on the other hand, have been so unserious that they have been all but laughed out of Congress. Last year, the president's budget was defeated in the Senate 97-0. Just last week a budget resolution based on the president's priorities was defeated in a 99-0 vote.

Perhaps Americans have become inured to the absurdity of where the nation finds itself, but we think it deserves shouting out loudly that our do-nothing Senate has failed to pass a budget in more than three years. Three years! Some have blamed partisan gridlock — but at least one of those years was during a time when one party controlled both chambers of Congress.

In the current environment, we could perhaps stomach the idea that two diametrically opposed budgets passed by each of the two chambers of Congress fail to be reconciled.

What we simply cannot abide is the dereliction of duty that thumbs its nose at a budget process required by law and demanded by any measure of financial responsibility.

We almost feel like exasperated parents whose only way to address the misbehavior of their children is to start praising the tiniest positive behaviors in hopes that they will respond to the positive attention and regain some basic functionality. Consequently, we feel it appropriate to recognize that the House of Representatives has done, with professionalism and dispatch, one of its very basic duties: It has looked at revenues and expenditures and put forward a budget for the United States of America. Call it partisan, austere, plutocratic, draconian, extreme — call it what you will — but the House budget is done, and done in such a way that it has garnered a majority of votes from the elected representatives in the House.

So how might one characterize its alternative? Frankly, we find it impossible to characterize something that simply doesn't exist. But disingenuous is a word that comes to mind for a Senate leadership that summarily dismisses the president's budget and fails to provide an alternative.

Meanwhile, without a budget, Washington will spend $10.5 billion every day. To accommodate that spending, Washington will need to turn around and borrow 40 cents for each and every one of those dollars.

Meanwhile, without a budget, roughly 10,000 Americans will retire every day with the expectation that there is an open-ended commitment for their income and health care, even though there is no clear plan to pay for those commitments.

The only plan we know of is the one forged last summer as a scare tactic to force some sort of action on the part of Congress — an across-the-board rise in marginal tax rates, mandatory spending cuts and another cap on the Treasury's ability to borrow money.

The greatest threat to the long-term security of the United States and the economic well-being of its citizens is the massive debt we are accruing because of the commitments politicians have made without funding them. The first step to fiscal sanity is a coherent budget passed through normal legislative processes.

After three years, we're still waiting.

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