Back in the Nixon years there was real concern because the House and the Senate seemed to be being bypassed in the writing of the government’s annual budgets (the President and his newly formed Office of Management and Budget were doing it). The result was the passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974. That act created budget committees in both the House and the Senate. They were made up of members of larger committees and their function was to work out a budget resolution by April 15 of each year that was supposed set limits for spending in each of the government departments. That way even if the proposed budget that the President sent over at the beginning of each year should show unacceptable priorities, the current Congress could exercise some kind of control.

Those budget committees are still there but this year they are doing nothing. The House and Senate’s leadership is not letting them do anything. There will be no budget for Fiscal 2019, which begins this October 1st. Why is that? It certainly is true that in the recent past these budget committees have not managed to come up with timely budget resolutions. They have dawdled and delayed. But, they at least pretended to be working. Now they are not. Why, with a Republican President and a united Republican House and Senate, are they being so remiss?

Let us think about what has happened. Last year the Republican majority in Congress could agree on only one piece of major legislation. They were able to pass a tax reform bill (while the Democratic members were helpless bystanders). “Tax Reform” really meant selectively lowering tax rates. There is a problem with lowering tax rates, a lot less money comes in. The tax cuts should cut income to the government by about a trillion dollars over ten years (a billion is a thousand million, a trillion is a thousand billion). So, over a ten year period a thousand billion dollars that the government would have been able to spend will not come in. This, during a time when the obligations of the government will skyrocket due to our aging population.

Back in February, because the government had run out of money, the House and the Senate, to avoid a prolonged government shutdown, passed a two year Budget Agreement. The debt limit was set aside about a year, till March 1st of 2019. Military spending was allowed to increase 82 billion dollars and domestic spending was allowed to increase 66 billion dollars through 2019. When those increases are combined with the loss of government income due to the tax cuts, it means that the government will have to borrow a projected 1.2 trillion dollars just for 2019! Remember we are talking about 1,200,000 million dollars and that is just the borrowing for one year. This, from a political party elected to reduce the size of government!

Given all this, if you were in the House and Senate leadership, would you want those committees to be trying to create a Budget Resolution? To do that would help to make the public aware of the huge borrowing to come. The money to be spent has already been voted for. It is not going to be possible to blame the Democrats because the Republicans have the majority in both Houses. They voted for those increases. It’s not going to be possible to blame the Democratic minority for the tax cuts because those are the Republican’s only legislative victory. Republicans plan on campaigning on those tax cuts for the November elections (even though almost all the tax cut benefits go to the very rich and to corporations).

So, what can the Republican leadership do? Because of the tax cuts and their two year budget agreement there will have to be a huge amount of borrowing. There is going to be a huge deficit of their making (It isn’t surprising that more than forty Republican House and Senate members have either resigned already or have announced their retirements.). If the budget committees were actually to follow the law and produce a budget resolution they will highlight the enormous deficits that their party has created on into the foreseeable future. The Republican majority has created a dilemma from which there is no escape.

There does loom one possible escape, they can pray for a Democratic victory in November: If Republicans can avoid doing a real budget and get by with continuing resolutions it may be possible to keep their self-created disaster under wraps until November and then, if they are lucky, the Democrats will win in the House and in the Senate. Then after the beginning of January the unresolved dilemmas created by the Republican leadership’s mismanagement will become a Democratic problem. Then, sadly, the Republicans in Congress will rediscover the horror of deficits!

That sequence of events is hardly new. It has been repeated over and over again in our recent history. After the huge (huge for then) borrowing by the Reagan and the George H.W. Bush administrations, Bill Clinton came in, took the heat for raising taxes and balanced the budget. Then, George W. Bush was elected and immediately pushed through tax cuts. The deficits ballooned. Only after some heavy borrowing to battle the 2009 recession, Barack Obama was able to get the borrowing down. Now, another big tax cut, even when the economy is doing well and we face, once again, huge deficits for the foreseeable future.

From this writing readers might opine that the Republicans in Congress are being unfairly treated. The truth really is that the Republicans in Congress have lost their way. They have simultaneously become obsessed with tax cuts (taxes must always go down), and endless military spending. They are concerned about government borrowing but only when Democrats have the majority. They have almost nothing to offer the people who vote for them. And, when Democrats do win majorities they must spend their time not on programs that really might be good for voters but on trying once more to get the Republican deficits down. Sadly, history does repeat itself!

H.J. Rishel


Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all