Didn’t we turn over a new leaf in 2018? Didn’t everyone in Washington resolve to work together on America’s important problems and get things done? Oh, sorry.That must have been that pipe dream I had last weekend when I dozed off in my La-Z-Boy watching the Times Square ball fall on TV.
The New Year isn’t even a week old and already I can’t wait till the start of 2019.We’re back to watching the same stupid political stuff going on in Washington and listening to the cries of the same Trump-deranged national media. Today it’s Steve Bannon and his former boss Donald Trump calling each other names in public and everyone on TV talking about Michael Wolff’s new expose, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
Wolff’s book details the internal feuds, power plays and administrative chaos of the president’s first year. Nothing Wolff writes would surprise me, but these days who knows what’s true or fake? What we know for sure so far in 2018 is what we learned from last year – there’s room for only one super ego in Washington, and Steve Bannon isn’t it.
Meanwhile, the forecast for The Swamp looks like a repeat of last year.Our politicians will be playing the same selfish games in Congress and they’ll never accomplish anything worthwhile on big things like health care reform or immigration policy. How about doing something simple and worthwhile for a change, Congress people? How about doing your job and coming up with a dozen spending bills this year to pay for discretionary things like defense, agriculture and infrastructure – and then passing them on time?
According to the Constitution, Congress has the duty to pass discretionary spending bills each fiscal year to fund the annual budget the president has proposed. You might not have noticed, because the mainstream media don’t pay much attention to this smelly aspect of federal sausage-making, but Republican and Democratic Congresses have shirked their spending duties almost religiously since 1974. Since the current budget system was put into place the year Richard Nixon resigned, Congress has passed all of its annual spending bills on time only four times. What Congress does more often is pass continuing resolutions that merely extend spending from previous years’ spending bills.
In early 2017, after the usual deal-making, Congress used a continuing resolution to pay for fiscal year 2017 – three months after it had officially started on Oct. 1, 2016.All of this is confusing, frustrating and unnecessary. It used to be that a president had the power to impound – or simply not spend – any money that Congress had allocated for something if he thought that it would raise the deficit. But in 1974, after Nixon had lost his ability to veto any legislation Congress sent him because of Watergate, Congress passed a law stripping him of his power to impound Congress’ money. Since then, presidents have essentially been forced to spend every dime Congress allocates, whether it’s for “A Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska or free cell phones to the poor.Depriving the president of his impoundment powers, which Thomas Jefferson first used in 1801 to stop the building of unneeded Mississippi River gunboats for the Navy, is one reason our annual deficits are averaging half a trillion dollars and the national debt has zoomed past $20 trillion. A bigger reason is that members of Congress from both parties can spend what they want with little political pain or media scrutiny and then pass continuing resolutions that are loaded with pork, perks and new laws no one reads until it’s too late. It’s still a new year.
It’s not too late to make presidential resolutions. If Donald Trump really wants to clean up The Swamp, he should pledge that this year he’ll try to force Congress to write a budget, vote on it and pass it by October 1. It’s not a goal he can explain to the public in a tweet, but it’s one of the best things any president could to do in 2018 to make America great.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press).