The Press is Failing Us Too

Its official!  As of 12:01 last night the federal government shuttered its doors for the first since Bill Clinton was president.  Who remembers the outcome of that exercise in political power?

But this shutdown is different.  For the life of me, I cannot see a political way out that does not involve John Boehner losing his Speakership in January 2015.  That equation changes everything in terms of a quick resolution.  Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House during the Clinton-era shutdown, never faced that challenge.  Plus, Newt did not have the Tea Party, or anything remotely similar, to manage.  Yet, I believe that shutdown lasted about three weeks?

Here is one thing I know for sure: the press is doing an equally horrible job of reporting and informing its readers on Congressional budget policy.

This phenomenon is hardly new.  When I used to work in the Congress as a staffer, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, every paper I read each morning had tons of errors.  Many reporters did not know the difference between an authorization and appropriations bill.  All legislation was characterized as “budget bills.”

Over twenty years later the reporting remains consistently poor. I am certain that the majority of reporters have trouble identifying the law responsible for today’s budget process, let alone describe how each step unfolds.

Reporters are the critical link between an informed electorate and one who gets sucked in by propaganda.  Right now propaganda is winning hands down.

Social media gives us a blow-by-blow accounts of political developments much faster than ever.  I received updates from Politico all day long. Is that what reporting is these days?  God, I hope not!  Transparency is vitally needed to make government work and be accountable.  If facts are missing that task is nearly impossible to accomplish.

So let’s start at the beginning. What is the status of 12 appropriations bills that fund the government? After all, there must be a reason why the Congress keeps using temporary funding resolutions to keep government open.  Here is a simple chart I found on Google in about two seconds.

Status of Congressional Appropriations Bills

The data contained in the chart is clear as a bell.  Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are failing to do their main job which is to pass a budget that limits for how much money government spends and the appropriations bills that actually fund the government.

Who remembers the big deal House Republicans made in the Spring about the Senate finally passing a budget bill?  The House actually passed a bill that would attempt to strip Senators of their pay if they failed to pass a budget bill by the middle of April.  Can you believe the Senate passed their version of the House bill on March 23, 2013.

All activity stopped at that point.  The Senate and House were supposed to meet and iron out the differences in each bill (i.e. in a conference committee) but that meeting never took place.  Until the House and Senate take that step, and each House votes on the final version, the president cannot sign the bill into law.

Look at each appropriations bill.  One after another is stalled in the legislative process.  The House and the Senate cannot even meet to iron out the differences on these all important funding bills.  How come reporters rarely or never ask the Speaker nor the Senate Majority leader when these critical bills will move?  Obamacare is not, nor has it ever been the issue.  Congressional inaction is the issue.

Lastly, I wrote months ago how important earmarks are to the budget process.  In a modest defense of Congress, until the House restores time-tested approaches to passing budgets, each body will continue to underperform.  These continuing resolutions may go on forever no matter who is president.  Why can’t reporters ask some intelligent questions on the use of earmarks to repair the budget process?  Throughout history, a “clean” temporary funding bill has been a rarity.  Usually these bills are loaded with earmarks.

When Congress fails and reporters can’t communicate to citizens all the in’s and out’s of government, we all suffer.  Should we have another Congressional stalemate during the debt ceiling debate, the results may well be a recession even worse than the last.  At the very least, I expect another credit downgrade even if the debt ceiling is raised by the Congress.

Will someone please ask John Boehner a question that gets him off script?

Author: The Blue Route

What say you, the people?