Congressional Endgame

Congress is preparing to leave for the holidays and desperately wants to finish all of the work they put off for a year or more.  This is nothing new. If Congress had done their work on time, they could have left in October as originally scheduled.

Rather than do their work in an orderly fashion, they wait until the last minute to create artificial, self-imposed crises to try to force compromises. Because these agreements are slapped together at the last possible minute, the accounting used to justify everything would make Enron executives proud.

After you compound the budget gimmickry and smoke and mirrors over decades, you can begin to understand why we have such a fiscal mess in Washington.

Congress is trying to move two enormous pieces of legislation before they leave for Christmas. The first bill is an omnibus appropriations bill to fund most of the government for the rest of fiscal year 2012, which is almost three months old already. (The bill passed the House on Friday. The Senate is expected to pass it on Saturday.)

The second bill is a package that includes provisions to:

  • extend the payroll tax holiday for another year;
  • continue extended unemployment insurance benefits;
  • provide a two-year patch for the “doc fix” and other Medicare extenders;
  • approve the permits for the Keystone Pipeline;
  • block the implementation of the proposed Boiler MACT rule that would cost billions of dollars and many jobs; and
  • make a number of reforms to many different programs that are hitching a ride on this vehicle.

All of this should have been done weeks ago. The legislation funding the government should have been passed before the fiscal year began on October 1.  The other items could have been done earlier too. Congress was hoping most of those goodies would have been rolled into the package that the super committee was going to approve before Thanksgiving.

That didn’t happen. The super committee failed.

One problem left on the roadside by the super committee was the doc fix.  In fact, the doc fix was supposed to be corrected in the Obamacare bill. At least that is what President Obama and the Democrats promised the American Medical Association (AMA) in order to get their support for the giant government takeover of medicine legislation. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.  The doc fix was stripped out of the Obamacare bill at the last minute to make room for more spending and never got fixed.  The AMA is still looking like a forlorn Charlie Brown as Lucy walks away with the football.

Fixing the phantom cuts to Medicare for reimbursements to doctors is a provision that keeps getting kicked down the road with temporary patches that creates a larger problem in the future.  It is a budget gimmick of the past that has come back to haunt Congress every year as the problem grows.