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An unserious shutdown fight looms, with serious consequences for everyone

As members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with President Biden, return to Washington, the first and most fraught order of business is to fund the government before the fiscal year ends at midnight on Oct. 1.

To hear these elected officials talk, there seems to be a curious and confusing bit of bipartisan consensus brewing. With feigned shock in their voices, and in near-perfect harmony, they repeat the talking point that the deadline somehow snuck up on them and they are simply not going to have time to complete their constitutional duty.

Are we really supposed to believe that those in high office are surprised that Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year, is coming up? According to my careful research, Sept. 30 comes every single year. There are no reports or records anywhere of a year when that calendar date was not observed — not even in 1582 — nor has there ever been a fiscal year that did not end, at least not in the history of this country.

Congress has very few powers and responsibilities outlined in the Constitution, but one of them is to spend the money. This is not merely about the “power of the purse” for the sake of separation of powers, but it is also understood as a legislative duty for Congress to exercise control and assume responsibility and accountability for spending. This involves passing 12 appropriations bills to properly fund the government.

This duty is almost never fulfilled, and the perennial excuse insults the intelligence: “We just ran out of time! Unfortunately, we will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open.”

A more accurate statement would go something like this: “We refused to pass even one of the 12 appropriations bills this year, so we will have a fake fight until close of business Sept. 30, at which point we will present a false choice in order to pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government until Dec. 14 so we can do this all over again.”

The fine print would also have to include, “When we say ‘continue current spending levels,’ we reserve the right to add a few billion.”

President Biden, wanting to get a jump on more spending, has already provided his list of spending requests to be added to a continuing resolution. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is already working out how to negotiate with those within his party who have the audacity to suggest that the government should spend less money rather than more.

The two sides will go back and forth throughout September as if to fight on the merits and battle over the details of the funding, to the delight of their political bases. Both sides will demonize the other party as reckless and irresponsible or even hostage-takers, and the White House will occasionally weigh in with outrage or dismay. As this unserious process unfolds, there will be calls for compromise, fearmongering, demonization and fundraising messages galore.

After days of 24-7 cable news drama, a continuing resolution will pass in the dark of night containing billions of dollars in new spending, and the government will be funded until Dec. 14, when another fake fight and another false choice will be foisted upon the public just in time for the holidays.

The only thing serious in any of this is the consequences for the country and our future.

The most common complaint about Congress is that there is just too much conflict. But this failure is about collusion, the silent but lethal force that has crippled the economy, escalated inflation and strapped the nation with debilitating debt. One does not accumulate $32 trillion in debt through excessive conflict. That kind of profligacy is a sign of excessive cooperation.

Part of the collusion lies in Congress’s comfort with its perennial failure to do its job on time. If members of Congress are not interested in doing their primary job, they should look for a new field of employment. And if they don’t, then the voters should help them find new jobs by voting them out of their current ones.

The subject of government spending deserves a serious conversation, not the unserious process upon which Congress has fallen back.

There should never be a threat of a government shutdown, and there wouldn’t be if Congress simply did its job — if each house were to pass the 12 appropriations bills and have them signed by the president. 

Lawmakers focused on doing their duty instead of flexing their political muscle? That’s what leadership looks like. That’s how Congress stops being surprised every time Sept. 30 rolls around and stops offering us fake fights and false choices.

Boyd Matheson is host of Inside Sources on KSL News Radio and Sunday Edition on KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.

Tags Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy