The final minute of a New York Red Bulls game, the ninth inning in a Yankees game, the last 30 seconds of a Knicks game -- what do all these things have in common with the current Congress? Well, lawmakers have only a short time left to fulfill one of its chief responsibilities - pass twelve appropriations bills to keep our government running. The pressure is on. Will Congress get the job done?
During the last few months Congress has found time to try to micro-manage the war in Iraq, hold countless investigative hearings and debate the history of the Ottoman Empire -- all the while ignoring our growing budget deficits and soaring entitlement costs. Yet the one thing Congress hasn't found time to do is complete the 12 appropriation bills that fund our government.
By way of background, all spending bills must originate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmakers have divided up the spending pot -- from Agriculture to Defense to Veteran Affairs -- into a total of 12 appropriation bills that have to go through the legislative process in order to become law. Originating in the House, the bill is then next sent to the Senate for consideration before arriving to the President's desk for approval.
Just how far behind is Congress' current crop of members on getting their job done? Back in 2000, most appropriation bills had been sent to the President for approval by July. And even during last year's mid-term congressional elections with members of Congress campaigning, Congress was still able to complete most of its work by late September.
Add to Congress' procrastination their inability to address pressing foreign and domestic needs that warrant their attention. No wonder Congress' approval ratings are at a record low. Despite promises on the stump last fall, Congress has done absolutely nothing to steer us on a path towards independence from foreign oil. And from a foreign policy perspective, trade agreements with our friends in Latin America remain stalled.
So what has Congress been up to? That's a good question.
After a dash from the starting line, the new leadership hasn't accomplished much since taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years. In fact, they were so set on changing the tone of Washington that the new Congress promised to work a five day work week, like the rest of us working stiffs, to meet the needs of the American people. Reality has since set in: we're back to a three day work week.
To make matters worse, Congress has spent the better part of its time in Washington grandstanding and postulating for the next election, rather than getting to work on anything meaningful. For example, Congress has spent valuable time trying to micro-manage the war in Iraq while threatening to cut off funding to our troops. And most recently, House and Senate members have spent weeks trying to pick up supporters for flawed S-CHIP legislation (state children health insurance plan) with no prospect of overriding a presidential veto.
With the clock winding down, Congress still has time to do some heavy lifting and make some tough decisions. In the real world, employers expect their employees to work hard, meet deadlines and complete their work. It's too bad that these same guidelines don't seem to apply to our elected officials.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation, heritage.org.
First appeared in NY's El Diario