Lawmakers across the country are busy playing out the ground game of their campaign season politics this time as budget deadlines come, and go, at the state and national level. From the Colorado Capital to the U.S. Congress, posturing and statement-making have for much of the past weeks if not months trumped the very real need for legislators to get down to the nitty-gritty and pass workable spending outlines.
In Colorado, at least, it appears there is a compromise document ready for consideration and passage by the Legislature this after a lengthy period of ideological entrenchment on both sides of the aisle. In response to Republican fits over sales tax exemptions for agricultural equipment, and an increase in the amount public employees must contribute to their retirement accounts, Democrats had their own tantrums about school funding cuts. In the end, as is always the case, the compromise document that the Joint Budget Committee sent to the full Legislature required pain on all sides. School cuts were down from what Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a $250 million reduction instead of a $332 million slash but not as far as what Senate Democrats would have preferred ($232 million). Restored, on Republicans insistence, is a fee paid to businesses for collecting sales tax though the fee will be 2.2 percent for the next three years, eventually returning to its pre-recession 3.3 percent level.
These and the sum total of sticking points that slowed the budget process appear to have originated more from ideological posturing than from lawmakers collective desire to do the best they can for their shared constituents. What came out of that drama-ridden debate was the kind of compromise that all budgets must embody particularly when different parties control the two chambers. The time and energy wasted during that politicking did not reflect well on either party; the outcome, it seems, reflects the pain inherent in any budgeting process in a down economy.
At the national level, that pain is becoming more acute by the day. Still stuck in the partisan posturing phase, Congress is headed for a deadlock that could result in a government shutdown if the true spirit of compromise that moving ahead cannot be embraced. Instead, we are witnessing entrenchment, threats and grandstanding while the very real business of governing hangs in the balance.
On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., proposed a vision for spending that limits federal spending, cuts the top corporate and individual tax rate and changes the structure of federal health and other social programs. The 11th hour is hardly the time for introducing such a vision, but as Ryan himself said at a news conference, The new people did not come here for a political career. They came here for a cause. This isnt a budget. This a cause, Ryan said in a New York Times report.
Perhaps, but lawmakers first priority is to do the business they were hired to do. Inserting ideology into that business by force eclipses the efficacy with which the important work of budgeting must be conducted. Colorado legislators recognized that this week; Congress must now follow suit.