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In our opinion: Short-term spending deal 'kicks the can' a little further

Published: Tuesday, July 31 2012 11:48 p.m. MDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announces to reporters that he and GOP House Speaker John Boehner have reached an agreement to keep the government running on autopilot for six months when the current budget year ends on Sept. 30., at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 31, 2012.

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

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Although not yet an Olympic event, congressional leaders deserve a gold medal for their skill at kick the can. With just two months left before the federal fiscal year ends, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, have reached a short-term spending deal that would allow the federal government to operate through the end of March 2013 without the threat of a shut down.

If approved, this deal would keep federal agencies running into 2013 at an annual cash flow rate of $1.047 trillion, $19 billion more than what Republicans in the House have previously approved in their budget.

Some are celebrating the political wisdom of getting this stop-gap deal done quickly. It avoids the brinksmanship seen in last year's debt-ceiling debate and pushes until well past the election the challenging trade-offs that would be asked for in a culture of fiscal responsibility.

But why start emphasizing responsibility? After all, this is an election year, and apparently voters don't need to be troubled by the frightening facts related to exploding government debt. Why bore people with the challenging arithmetic of federal budgeting or meaningful debates about the proper roles and competencies of government?

The Washington consensus this year seems to be that principled adherence to such mundane practices as regular budgeting could unflatteringly highlight the kind of ideological differences and recalcitrance that play so poorly on television. They would undoubtedly take precious time away from campaigning.

There could be a more serious reason to leave spending details alone until after the election. If, within the contours of the presidential contest, there were a clear set of contrasting proposals for taming the federal budget, we could be comfortable with letting the November election serve as a referendum on federal budgeting principles. But sadly, even at this late date, the differences between the candidates on this issue seem to be largely implied rather than explicit.

Because electioneering seems to be at least one source of Washington's budget paralysis, perhaps it is time for the federal government to start passing budgets in two-year cycles.

In the meantime, instead of facing up to the reality that Americans have created for themselves an expensive but underfunded government without any serious plan for making revenues and expenditures match, it seems politically convenient for our representatives to just simply kick that proverbial can down the road six months at a time.

Should kick the can ever gain exhibition status at the Rio Olympics in 2016, the U.S. would face some stiff competition from Greece. But with such skilled competitors as Reid and Boehner, the U.S. may yet top Greece in being able to avoid long-term fiscal discipline.

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