Senate Budget Passed For First Time in 4 Years, Followed By Prompt Paid Vacation

Congress has recessed for a two-week Easter vacation. Before they went off to paint Easter eggs and eat Cadbury candies, they graciously agreed to spend another $1.27 trillion to keep the government open until September 30 when the fiscal calendar year for 2013 ends. The spending bill keeps non-entitlement spending at current levels and is consistent with the spending limits enacted by the Budget Control Act.

What this should tell you is that the only thing that Congress can agree on is vacation time and spending trillions of taxpayer dollars. The spending bill avoids the kind of crisis-inducing frenzied negotiation that has become part of budget management since the Republicans assumed the majority in the House in 2010; however, it does nothing to create a blueprint for future spending.

The appropriation bill is not a budget resolution. There hasn't been a budget resolution in four years, however for the first time in four years the Senate actually passed a budget. The Senate budget passed with a vote of 50-49. Four Democrats crossed party lines and voted against the Senate budget.

Earlier this week, the House also passed its latest version of the Ryan Budget. The House budget passed with a vote of 221-207 and ten Republicans crossed party lines to vote with the Democrats. The spending bill that averts a summer shutdown passed the House with a 318-109 vote and the Senate with a 73-26 vote.

Congress remains deeply divided with respect to developing an economic and financial blueprint for the future. The House budget contains no tax increases, while the Senate version contains a $1 trillion increase. The House budget calls for defunding the Affordable Care Act. while the Senate approved an amendment to modify a minor funding provision in the act. The two budgets remain wildly separated on the issue of entitlement reform. The Ryan budget renews a call to make fundamental changes in Medicare, while the Senate version seeks to preserve the program in its current state.

Neither the House nor the Senate budget has a hope of being approved by the joint Congress, so there will be no movement towards breaking the impasse in government that jeopardizes the future health of the economy. The only positive sign is that by passing a budget, the Senate has removed a talking point and a sign of dysfunction from the political lexicon. More importantly, the amendment process known as the "vote-a-rama," a process for submitting amendments to the budget, was conducted for the first time in four years.  The Senate "vote-a-rama" allows for an infinite amount of amendments to be considered to the budget; however, more than half of the Senate had never been involved in the non-binding amendment process. One amendment has already passed. The Senate voted 99-0 to end provisions that provide financial advantages for "Too Big to Fail" megabanks.

The Senate had an extra personal incentive this year to pass a budget: it had until April 15 to pass a budget or risk having their salaries held in escrow. Congressional salaries were already exempt from the spending cuts that went into effect on March 1. The Senate was probably anxious to start their vacations knowing that that the "no budget, no pay" provisions had been averted. If only the rest of us could get a two-week vacation three months after starting our jobs and vote to keep our salaries without actually accomplishing anything except agreeing to spend other people’s money ... That’s a performance review we would all enjoy.