Government Shutdown

The Government Shutdown Is an Artifact of a Broken Budget Process

Budgeting isn't about budgeting anymore.


Al Drago/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

Washington is in the midst of another partisan budget standoff this weekend, but there's one point on which both sides agree: The government shutdown is the other party's fault.

Republicans have dubbed the halt in government funding the #SchumerShutdown, or, sometimes, the #DemocratShutdown, after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has demanded that the fate of Dreamers, immigrants brought to the United States as children, be resolved as part of a budget deal.

And of course, because we have entered the glorious year of 2018, all this is playing out on Twitter, via hashtags.

Democrats, in response, have charged that President Trump, who chose to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year, and congressional Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers of Congress, are at fault. "Despite controlling the House, the Senate and the White House, the Republicans were so incompetent, so negligent, that they couldn't get it together to keep government open," Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat, said this weekend.

Naturally, Pelosi has a hashtag too:

In other words, the shutdown has quickly, and predictably, become a tedious partisan blame game.

But the partisan bickering mostly serves as a distraction from the systemic failure at the heart of the shutdown: the consistent failure by Congress to complete the budget process. In today's New York Times, I look back at the history of today's budget development protocols and how we ended up with a government that appears permanently funded by temporary, budget-busting deals:

This week's government shutdown is a bipartisan failure, with bad faith all around, and both parties trying to blame the other for the consequences, in hopes of winning one for the team.

But it is also a systemic failure, in which an outdated budget process — the complex set of procedures that keeps the government open — has become an empty ritual, twisted in the service of narrow partisan gain.

The source of today's dysfunctions goes back more than 40 years, to the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. That law was passed as a result of a perception within Congress — which under the Constitution holds the power of the purse — that the White House had too much influence over the budget.

The law overhauled congressional budget development procedures in a manner intended to shift the balance of power in federal budgeting away from the executive and toward the legislature — and created the modern budget process.

Read the whole thing.