Editorial: Change federal budget policies

Published 9:18 am Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The malady of U.S. political dysfunction isn’t likely to react to even a dose of strong medicine, so we should consider preventive strategies that could stem the onslaught of our chronic fiscal condition.

The current breakdown of negotiations in Washington over budgets and debt limits will continue as long as we’ve got a political system that allows small groups of lawmakers to obstruct the process because they come from extremely safe political districts.

The power of caucus leaders like Speaker John Boehner has been diminished and the conflict industry including big media add gasoline to these fires of discontent and create a chaotic situation where almost nothing gets done.

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Routine political appointments are held up. Seemingly uncontroversial laws like the farm bill and transportation bill don’t get renewed.

The prevention policies the U.S. political system needs are not rocket science. Other modern western democracies connect spending policies to debt policies and don’t operate them separately. That’s how it used to work in the U.S. too. Going back to the strategy makes sense, as we are one of the few industrialized nations that do spending and debt decisions so separately.

But there are also simpler strategies that would protect the average taxpayers and others who rely on consistent federal policy. On budget resolution issues, we need to simply require that budgets currently in place will continue at current spending levels should we not be able to approve a new budget in a timely fashion. This simple provision would show taxpayers that while lawmakers might need time to work out their differences they will not make the rest of us pay for their dawdling or obstruction.

The farm bill is a case in point. It appears the lack of a farm bill will push us back into policies of the 1940s, possibly doubling the price of a gallon of milk to $6 or $7. Bankers who need a certain amount of certainty on farmer’s financial state can’t approve routine loans if the law reverts to 1949.

Taxpayers not only have to put up with frustration of a political stalemate, they often pay a price in jobs and business. The cost of the shutdown was estimated during the first week at $1.6 billion in lost economic activity, according to IHS Inc., a market research firm in Lexington, Mass.

And Bloomberg news reports that office closures are costing the U.S. economy about $160 million a day.

Those figures are just hard for taxpayers to accept. It’s no surprise the congressional approval rating is down to 5 percent.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It seems both parties would have an interest in creating preventive policies that protect hard-working people from the devastating economic impact of a government shutdown. That’s the least our leaders should be willing to do. They all say they don’t want a shutdown. There’s one way to prove it.

— Mankato Free Press, Oct. 11

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