Congress Must Find Reins to Curb Spending

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that Congress has failed so far to pass most of the appropriations bills before it. The government is being funded by stop-gap appropriations.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

While Democrats get ready to take over Congress in January, there is a lame duck session underway right now, and while a few things are expected to get passed, NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says lawmakers will likely leave some important spending bills unfinished.

DANIEL SCHORR: Along with the evil of the lobbyist generated earmarks sneaked into appropriations bills in the dark of night, there is the evil of the continuing resolution, which permits a department in the absence of a new appropriation to continue operating at last year's levels.

And so, for the fiscal year that started on October 1st, Congress has passed only defense and homeland security bills and a half trillion dollars worth of government is operating under continuing resolutions.

The continuing resolution, also called stopgap appropriation, is inherently wasteful. It permits a department only to spend at the rate it spent last year, meaning that a department can't change or scrap some unneeded program, and lobbies can get their amendments tacked on to continuing resolutions, which are then sometimes vetoed by the president.

In 1995, President Clinton vetoed a continuing resolution with the result that a large part of the government actually halted, their staffs furloughed. Then Senator Phil Graham of Texas said the government never would be missed, but Americans suddenly felt a need for government when the national parks closed, and fears were expressed that Social Security checks might not be mailed. The White House staff was also furloughed, and President Clinton had to ask an intern to pick up a pizza.

So now, the 109th Congress shuffles towards its demise, still faced with passing most of the appropriations is should have passed before October 1st, and the process is not going very speedily. A $94 billion funding measure for veterans' programs and military construction projects has run into trouble in the Senate, stalled by an effort to tack on an emergency farm aid amendment.

Congress has six weeks to provide funding for most of the government. Otherwise, we can expect one massive continuing resolution before the buck is passed to the next Congress.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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