November 17, 2009 | Commentary on Budget Process, Climate Change, Health Care

Presidential Dithering, Dawdling and Defeat

While our indecisive Commander-in-Chief dithers about a troop surge in Afghanistan, Lawmakers are dawdling on funding the federal government. Congress didn't finish the nation's spending bills on time, yet Members of Congress are racing to establish government-run health care and (supposedly) combat non-existent global warming. Before the end of the year, Congress is going to attempt to raise the amount the federal government may owe to some $12 trillion. Lawmakers aim to spend another $1 trillion on health care, regulate capitalism into the Stone Age and put together a massive spending bill to fund the federal government for the next year.

President Barack Obama is committed to passing some version of his health care bill and has traveled the nation to sell it, yet he doesn't seem to have a clue what to do to win the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

Appropriations Dithering

Congress has only sent the President five out of the twelve spending bills due for the fiscal year that started November 1. Instead, it's passed two continuing resolutions to keep the federal government from shutting down. Even with a huge majority in the House and a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the President's party in Congress can't get bills done on time. Yet the cramped appropriations schedule hasn't deterred the liberal leadership in Washington from over-promising legislative achievements for December signing ceremonies.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has announced that the House may be in session until Christmas Eve so it can take a run at: Obamacare, a financial regulatory bill and global warming legislation. It's unlikely any of these promises will be fulfilled. Also, Congress needs to raise the debt limit because of Washington's recent spending binge. Conservatives should beware in late December, when a bunch of appropriations bills may be cobbled together into a "minibus" spending bill so liberals can avoid difficult votes and finally finish the appropriations process.

Harry Reid's Abortion Road Block

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is still trying to figure out how to handle abortion restrictions in his version of health insurance reform. PelosiCare famously passed the House on a 220-215 vote, and that measure contains Congressman Bart Stupak's (D-Mich) amendment to prevent the government-run public option from covering abortion services. The Senate must try to redefine the debate and craft a toothless version of Stupak's amendment to placate pro-life Senators.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) have hinted they may offer some abortion-related language to Reid's Obamacare bill. The rumor is that moderates might craft an amendment to the bill that would ban federal funding of some abortions while allowing the government-run health care programs to pay for abortion services. Thus, Senators would have it both ways.

Former Congressman Ernest Istook, now at The Heritage Foundation, describes the situation this way: "without the House's Stupak-Pitts Amendment, the long-standing federal policy would be reversed." Any Obama-approved language that differs from the Stupak language would be a reversal of the idea that federal funds shouldn't pay for abortions. It's longstanding policy that, "federal insurance programs don't cover abortion unless it's rape, incest or to save a mother's life" and Istook makes the point that "no artificial distinction is made between federal and private dollars" for the purposes of a ban on funding. It will be interesting to see if the Obamacare debate in the Senate becomes a proxy fight for the left to reverse a federal ban on abortion funding.

International Elites Lobby Senate

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lobbied members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He didn't bother with life-and-death struggles in Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror, the world economy nor Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. Instead, Mr. Ban wanted to prod Senators to act swiftly on: global warming legislation.

European elites, including the European Union Ambassador to the U.S. (former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton), have criticized the Senate's slow pace. Bruton says it's "acting as though it is the only deliberative body in the world and that we should all wait until it gets healthcare passed." Clearly, the constitutional duty of the Senate is to give long pause to any legislation, and it shouldn't accelerate to meet a foreigner's demands.

The Heritage Foundation estimates that the Senate's Global Warming legislation, cap-and-trade, could result in a loss of 2.7 million jobs. Mr. Ban, ever the politician, claimed that a Senate framework would be a sufficient "sign of commitment." At a time when American unemployment is more than 10 percent, any legislation or international agreement that reduces America's economic growth and destroys jobs is unacceptable.

The Specter of Socialism

According to the AP, President Obama has rejected four recommendations for a troop surge in Afghanistan, and a decision about what to do there may still be weeks away. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas last week accused Obama of taking the U.S. down the road to socialism. Americans should worry that, as the President dithers on Afghanistan, he's found the time to encourage the Senate to grow the government in a manner that makes at least one governor scream: "Socialism."

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

First Appeared in Human Events