Yesterday, in what may have been the most evasive press briefing in recent memory, White House press secretary Jay Carney talked about the current debt ceiling stalemate as "wholly unnecessary."
We couldn't agree more. Not only is it wholly unnecessary, it has been in defiance of law.
The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 established by law the processes for congressional budgeting. It has clear procedures and deadlines for establishing revenue targets, spending priorities and debt limits.
There is plenty to criticize about the Congressional Budget Act (e.g., its bias towards baseline budgeting). But everything budgetary that the nation is anguishing about at this hour should have, under that law, been resolved last year.
It was while both houses of Congress and the presidency were firmly unified under the same political party that Congress defied its own budget law and abdicated its responsibility to pass a budget for the current fiscal year. Although anxious to overhaul health care and increase the regulation of the financial industry, Congress failed at its most basic task of giving the nation a budget, complete with adequate borrowing authority.
And even after last year's abysmal performance, there has been a continued lack of seriousness about the statutory budgetary process by many of the incumbent players.
True, the president submitted a budget to Congress by Feb. 15, as required by law. But it was so seriously flawed that the Democratically controlled Senate rejected it 97-0. Since then the White House has failed to submit anything resembling a clear and serious budget to Congress.
In the absence of a serious presidential budget, it would have been perfectly appropriate for the Senate to pass its own budget based on Senatorial priorities. But the Senate has yet to pass a budget.
The only serious participants in the normal process, as far as we can tell, have been leaders in the House of Representatives, who complied with the letter and spirit of the Budget Act, by passing through appropriate committees and the House itself a budget that would reduce spending by $5.8 trillion over 10 years.
Had the Senate provided in April a clear set of budget priorities, complete with Congressional Budget Office evaluation (per the Budget Act), we could have had a spring filled with the rough but routine bargaining between the chambers.
Instead, the normal process was pushed out of congressional committees and into ad-hoc processes characterized more by secrecy and personality than by transparency. For all their good intent, the Biden talks, the Gang of Six plan, and the so-called Grand Bargain, have had no statutory foothold. And consequently, they have gone nowhere.
The Budget Act was designed with the belief that the branches of government would meet their statutory obligations and deadlines with seriousness and dispatch, providing Congress both the time and the processes to have competing proposals evaluated by the same criteria and then legislatively adapted and adopted.
Lawmakers who have blithely and repeatedly dismissed the requirements of the Budget Act have placed the country on a disastrous path toward almost certain downgrading of the nation's creditworthiness, if not possible default. It is irksome, to say the least, to have those same lawmakers wag their fingers in blame at this 11th hour because it was wholly unnecessary.