Back on July 30th, at 3 a.m. Jerusalem time, Israel’s Knesset passed a budget.
The vote approving the spending plan for the next year came after 15 hours of debate and it prevented a collapse of the government. Under Knesset rules, if a budget bill is not passed within three months of the start of the fiscal year, the government is dissolved and elections are called.
In other words, Israeli politicians were forced to compromise on a spending plan or risk losing their jobs.
That’s what we call motivation.
If the United States government operated under a similar rule, it’s likely that nearly all of the current politicians in Washington would be long gone. Congress hasn’t passed a budget resolution and all the necessary spending bills on time since 1996.
Since then, the Congress has relied largely on continuing resolutions, temporary spending plans that have to be approved, on average, several times a year. But as former U.S. comptroller general David Walker says, that’s not the worst of it.
“Even when Congress does pass a budget and required spending bills, they only control about 38 percent of total federal spending—and that percentage is declining,” Walker writes. “The rest is ‘mandatory’ spending, and it’s on autopilot—largely Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on our national debt.”
So let’s get this straight. Congress gave up years ago passing an actual budget, opting for stopgap spending measures to pay for only 1/3 of the total cost of government. The current government shutdown means it can’t even accomplish that.
The seeds of the shutdown were sown when President Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act with no bipartisan support. That conservative backlash triggered the Tea Party movement that sent Republicans to Washington who are fixated on overturning the law.
Republicans mismanaged their attack by linking the defunding of Obamacare with legislation to keep the government running. Senate Democrats and the President won that battle, but now they are churlishly refusing to negotiate with the Republicans on any issues.
While the political posturing continues, the country’s budget woes deepen, as the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget pointed out last month.
“Continually rising deficits over the long-term are driven by a significant increase in spending on entitlement programs and interest payments on the debt and revenues from an inefficient and outdated tax code that will fail to keep pace.”
We have real problems in this country, which are not impossible to overcome but will require difficult negotiations and tough decisions. If our elected officials can’t get it done, perhaps we should take a lesson from the Knesset.