Prospects for Good Governance

The talking heads in the media are all assuming that the next few months in Washington will be filled with confrontation perhaps leading to a government shutdown. And with good reason. There are certainly the makings of stalemate and gridlock on the political scene these days. It will be interesting to see how the lame duck Congress addresses the most critical item on the agenda -- passing federal agency appropriations for the current FY 2011 that began on October 1, 2010 and ends on September 30, 2011. They've punted once, passing a continuing resolution that funds federal agencies through December 3, 2010. They should now pass a series of appropriations bills to fund all federal agencies for the remainder of the current FY.

A more likely outcome will be that they will leave town passing only another continuing resolution that keeps the federal government funded through sometime in January or perhaps early February 2011. When the new Congress is sworn in early in 2011, the House of Representatives will then be led by the Republicans. It will then be up to the Republicans to put forward their legislation to set federal spending levels for the remainder of the fiscal year. Section 7 of the US Constitution requires that: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."

What is likely to come out of the House of Representatives is anyone's guess but it is probably safe to assume it will be a very conservative omnibus (multi-agency) spending bill. Then the Senate takes up spending and will likely pass something that represents a compromise -- something middle of the road between the most conservative and liberal ideas on taxes and spending -- and it will have to overcome any efforts by either party to filibuster. The two differing bills are then supposed to go to a conference committee that must reconcile the two bills and strike a bargain that can be passed by both the House and Senate before it can go to the president for signature and become law.

The process will by definition require compromise if there is to be a federal budget. Failure to pass a budget could bring the federal government to a grinding halt. It's unclear that either party can afford to be seen to be the problem if compromise proves impossible and we start seeing federal benefits and services come to a halt. So we'll see pretty quickly about the prospects for compromise and good governance.


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