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http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/budget-competence-and-budget-bluster/2011/05/27/AGBNCzCH_story.html

Colbert I. King

Opinion Writer

Budget competence and budget bluster

By Colbert I. King, Published: May 27

This week, visitors to the nation’s capital were treated to dueling examples of legislative budget-making. In one case, the result was uplifting and reassuring; in the other, it was downright depressing.

At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, visitors could witness D.C. Council members with competing interests come together in the John A. Wilson Building and, working collaboratively, unanimously fashion a plan that eliminated a $322 million deficit with a combination of budget cuts and tax increases. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has announced he will sign the bill. The next step is congressional approval.

In contrast, visitors at the other end of the avenue were treated to the sight of stubborn and undisciplined wusses on Capitol Hill engaging in the equivalent of a legislative food fight even with a $14.3 trillion national debt looming over their heads. This week, the Congress of the United States failed miserably to do anything about the growing federal deficit.

The District deserves to have budget autonomy if for no other reason than to avoid association with that craven Congress.

Unfortunately, it is not to be, as long as the House and Senate are in the hands of men and women who won’t do their jobs and who won’t let us do ours with locally raised tax dollars.

It’s not as if the council and mayor aren’t confronted with the same kind of political pressures facing Congress. At least city legislators have the courage to act. Opposition to budget cuts is just as strong at the local level; so too, the push to raise taxes. But as the council’s chairman, Kwame R. Brown (D), said when he introduced his budget plan, “It would be easy if we could simply tax our way out of a difficult budget. But it’s not realistic, and it’s not the best option as we move forward.” So city leaders stepped up to the plate with spending reductions to accompany tax increases.

Clearly both should be included in any plan to reduce the federal deficit. But that’s not the response from Congress, where Republicans have drawn a line in the sand on tax increases. On the flip side, Democrats can’t bring themselves to spell out in detail how they would make changes in federal entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which are the big-ticket items driving the deficit.

So while council members and the mayor made difficult choices in a mature and professional manner, members of Congress, mired in partisanship, continue to indulge in petty demagoguery and gotcha politics. Hardly the business of responsible public servants.

But who says that’s what they are?

Even as the District continues to balance its budget — soon to be 11 years in a row — Congress is tinkering with the idea of an even more intrusive venture into D.C. affairs.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has indicated that he would prepare legislation that would allow Congress to approve the city’s local budget by the start of the fiscal year apart from the appropriations process. Federal funds for the city would be appropriated separately.

Incredibly, some city leaders expressed delight over Issa’s proposal. Talk about Stockholm syndrome (that phenomenon in which hostages, over time, become sympathetic to their captors).

Issa’s proposal would give Congress not one but two chances to stick its nose into the city’s business: first, when it approves the city’s local budget; second, when it approves the federal funds that the city gets through the regular appropriations process. That’s right: twice as many opportunities to stick unwanted riders on D.C. legislation; double the chances of cutting a portion of city and federal funds in the local budget plan.

And for that we are supposed to be happy?

This, by the way, is from a Congress that can’t even enact a federal budget for the new fiscal year.

Adding insult to injury, Issa speaking at a D.C. oversight hearing in the House said, “We want the District to spend its own money. . .wisely.”

Who is Issa or anyone else on Capitol Hill, for that matter, to measure the wisdom of the city’s use of its own local tax dollars?

Judging from the nation’s fiscal mess, it’s fair to say not much in the way of financial wisdom has been exercised on Capitol Hill since Bill Clinton departed the White House with budget surpluses in his wake.

But that’s not the District narrative heard in conversations beyond the Beltway. We are supposed to be the Washington inhabitants who can’t make fiscally tough decisions or responsibly conduct the public’s business.

Ah, but this week’s visitors to the nation’s capital know better. Now please go home and tell your neighbors.

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Home Legislative Limitations Colby King on Budget Competence and Bluster

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