For the fifth time in seven years, Congress did not have the time to pass a budget, recessing early to campaign for the mid-term elections. It also punted for now on extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone.
But lawmakers somehow had the time to propose new pork spending for fiscal 2011.
So far, the 2011 House spending bills contain nearly 3,000 earmarks worth $3 billion, while the Senate bills have more than 3,700 earmarks worth $6 billion, says Taxpayers for Common Sense, a fiscal watchdog group.
The new pork spending includes $1 million for the Sugarcane Research Laboratory in Houma, Louisiana, $623,000 for the Diet, Nutrition and Obesity Research Center in New Orleans, $500,000 for the John H. Chafee Center for International Business in Smithfield, RI, and more than $9 million in construction projects requested by President Barack Obama, for things like a boat ramp, helipads for a medical center, and a national monument in the Grand Canyon.
The fiscal 2011 pork is well on pace to match the 9,129 pork projects worth $16.5 billion in fiscal 2010, according to data from Citizens Against Government Waste.
All a dreadful showing because, for the first time in Congressional history, Congress recessed not just without finishing a budget, but without finishing a single spending bill, says Taxpayers for Common Sense. The House has only approved two, the Senate none, the fiscal watchdog group says.
Each year since 1969, Congress has spent more money than what is raised in federal tax revenue and other fees.
This year, Congress shoved the fiscal 2011 budget into the "War Supplement Bill,â€ť tossing out the Presidential Budget Proposal for 2011.
Instead, the government is operating once more on a "continuing resolution,â€ť meaning that Congress can continue spending without the guidelines of a budget â€” which it has done in five of the past seven years.
Recessing for midterm campaigning, Congress will come back for a lame duck session to work on extension of the Bush tax cuts and possibly 20 other legislative initiatives, including pork spending, and a reported $1 trillion in additional deficit expenditures.
Congress also may take political cover in the new debt commissionâ€™s policy prescriptions to reduce the $13.9 trillion deficit, a report that is due on December 1.
Still little talk of a presidential line item veto, which the US Supreme Court struck down in 1998, where the president can cancel spending items without subject to a Congressional vote. The president can veto appropriations bills in their entirety, but not in part.
President Barack Obama last May proposed legislation that would make it easier for presidents to recommend excising pieces of spending bills that would be subject to a Congressional vote. Such enhanced presidential rescission power could help curtail the pork barrel spending that elected officials attach to appropriations bills.
But instead Congress protected its power over the public purse and rejected that idea. This, despite the fact that Congress in recent years has handed over much of its legislative work to a broad array of commissions, boards, and advisory bodies, such as probing 9/11, dealing with Social Security and Medicare reform, and Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, presidents do continue to have the power to propose rescissions, but no president has used it since 2000 because Congress routinely rejects them. The last time a president requested rescissions â€“ three, worth just $128 million, in 2000 â€“ Congress rejected all of them. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has proposed giving expedited-rescission powers for the president on several occasions, to no avail.
Washington's spending is eating up the largest portion of the economy in America's post-World War II history. The US has spent $3.5 trillion in fiscal 2010, while taking in only $2.2 trillion in tax receipts, creating a $1.3 trillion budget deficit, about the size of Canadaâ€™s economy, or about 10% of GDP.
That is the highest ratio of debt to GDP since World War II. The White House has proposed spending $3.8 trillion for fiscal 2011. The federal deficit is at $13.9 trillion, approaching the size of the US economy.
The Treasury Department spent so far this year $228 billion on interest on the national debt, a cost that is projected to increase to $375 billion by the end of the year, about the size of Belgiumâ€™s economy, and $571 billion in 2012. Factor in interest costs on US savings bonds, and on state and local bonds, and that $228 billion figure jumps to $414 billion.
Already, annual interest on the US debt would cover the annual budgets for about two dozen government agencies, including the legislative and judicial branches, and Homeland Security.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have warned the nationâ€™s debt poses a national security issue. The debt can be used by other countries to leverage the US into untenable policy positions.