A Bad Time to Skip Budget Resolution

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As lawmakers start to move forward on spending legislation for the Fiscal 2019, it seems increasingly likely that they will skip an essential first step in the congressional budget process: Passing a budget resolution.

If they skip it, they will be neglecting one of their most fundamental responsibilities. A budget resolution provides the overall framework that is supposed to guide the House and Senate as they prepare for the coming fiscal year and beyond.

Lawmakers have already blown past the April 15 deadline for passing a budget resolution, and prospects for passing one at all this year seem to be dimming. Congressional leaders may instead simply rely on basic spending limits in a 2-year deal that was reached in February.

But that is no substitute for a detailed, comprehensive budget resolution that lays out revenue, spending and borrowing plans — and that would, ideally, put government finances on a more sustainable path than they are now.

Moving to such a path, however, would require setting priorities and making difficult policy decisions. Many in Congress would rather steer clear of all that, particularly in an election year.

Yet they are also reluctant to pass a budget resolution that fails to make difficult choices and consequently highlights further rapid growth in federal deficits, debt and interest payments, which is what the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently projected under current laws.

The budget office warns that annual deficits will consistently exceed $1 trillion in 2020 and beyond. Total federal deficits over the coming decade would add up to more than $12.4 trillion. The debt would climb from 78 percent of GDP this year to 96.2 percent in 2028.

So many lawmakers — apparently including congressional leaders — would prefer to simply forget about passing a budget resolution this year.

A budget resolution should provide the American public with greater governmental transparency, presenting a clear picture of the fiscal goals towards which Congress is heading.

It is particularly troubling that lawmakers want to duck this responsibility after approving the deficit-financed tax cuts last December and the deficit-financed spending increases in the omnibus appropriations bill in March.

Partly as a result of those decisions, the International Monetary Fund reported recently that the United States was the only economically advanced country in the world that is projected to increase its debt in the next three to five years.

If Congress belatedly decides to put together a budget resolution, it should of course steer clear of the budgetary gimmicks and unrealistic economic projections that can distort the fiscal picture and the choices to be made.

Congress must face the future and take action to prevent snowballing government debt, support long-term economic growth, protect the country’s future and shield future generations from unfair fiscal burdens.

Reaching agreement on a responsible budget resolution this year would be a start. Failure to do so would be another sign of trouble to come. It would demonstrate to the nation and the world that our leaders have no answer to unsustainable debt.

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