One of the basic functions of Congress is passing spending bills to fund the operations of government. Congress regularly fails to complete this work in a timely way, but the 109th Congress is set to leave on an especially negligent note. Unless something dramatic changes, it will limp to a close having completed work on just two spending bills for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1. The upshot is that, at best, the fiscal year will be nearly one-third over by the time the 110th Congress finishes the work left by the 109th.
This is inexcusable. The House passed all but one spending bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported all the spending measures by July, the earliest that's been accomplished in 18 years. Then the full Senate punted. Only two bills - covering defense spending and homeland security - became law; one other, for military construction, won initial Senate passage, but the conference agreement worked out with the House is now stalled.
Part of the reason for the latest gridlock is a revolt by some conservative senators against earmarks in that bill. But none of the complaining senators offered any motion to strip the supposedly offending earmarks. And the reality is that their do-nothing strategy sat just fine with Senate Republican leaders, who dallied before the election and could have forced action in the lame-duck session.
Instead, they were happy to dump $460-billion in unfinished business on the new Democratic majority. One political plus for them is that the leftover mess threatens to snarl the Democrats' already full agenda at the start of the 110th Congress. Another is that it could force the new leaders to an early and unpleasant choice about whether to live within the Republicans' spending ceiling or look like hypocritical big spenders and risk a presidential veto.
We understand the political temptation to do mischief by doing nothing, but this is a gross abdication of lawmakers' fundamental responsibilities.