Congress Returns, Facing Postponed Fiscal Decisions

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Back from its long August recess, Congress faces some difficult decisions and tight deadlines, the result of another collapsed budget process and persistent procrastination this year.

Lawmakers should try to quickly move forward on these decisions, aiming for fiscally responsible compromises that will ideally lay some groundwork for confronting Washington’s long-term budget challenges.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated last week, at the top of the priority list is funding the government for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. This should have been done long ago through a dozen appropriations bills, but Congress has failed to pass a single one.

Now lawmakers are widely expected to again resort to a “continuing resolution,” which generally extends current spending levels for a certain period. While this can avoid a government shutdown, it can also waste money by failing to take changing needs and priorities into account.

Lawmakers have also left themselves little time to come up with a responsible way to match revenue and spending for transportation programs. In July they passed another short-term patch for the Highway Trust Fund, but additional legislation is needed before the current highway bill expires at the end of October.

Congress must raise the federal debt limit later this year, the inevitable result of its past fiscal decisions. Projections show that special measures to avoid breaching the limit could be exhausted as early as mid-November. Brinksmanship on this issue can rattle financial markets.

External links:
Summer’s Over for Congress, But Budget Deadlines Keep Heat On (McClatchy News Service)
Iran, Budget Highways and National Debt on Tap for Congress (AP)
Chaos Expected as Congress Returns (Dayton Daily News)
Ted Cruz to Star in Government Shutdown, the Sequel (Bloomberg)

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