Our editorial: Country is sick of shutdown games

The Detroit News

With the latest doomsday deadline for avoiding a government shutdown approaching at midnight Friday, the temptation is to say, “Fine, close the darn doors this time.” This rolling crisis and the political drama that comes with it is long past old and tired.

But that would be too big a concession to Washington’s dysfunction.

Instead, in this crucial election year, voters should demand to know why their representatives and senators find it impossible to pass an annual budget that provides a clear blueprint for spending their tax dollars.

This lurching from one budget crisis to another is getting tiresome. Americans barely flinch anymore at the dire warnings of what might happen to them should the federal behemoth run out of cash.

Since 2002, Congress has passed more than 100 continuing resolutions to allow the federal government to keep spending money in the absence of signed appropriation bills.

Today, it will try to pass the fourth so-called continuing resolution since September, this one, like the last, for just a month. The CR allows members to keep fighting and playing political games and avoid the hard work of regular order governing.

It is not supposed to work this way. Decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars should not be made in a panic as the clock ticks down toward a government shutdown.

The process of debating and putting in place a federal budget ought to begin with a presidential proposal in February, and be completed by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

During that period, Congress should set spending priorities, scrutinize programs for their effectiveness and do their honest best to match outlays to revenues.

Relying on CRs instead of an orderly budget process is one reason the national debt has doubled over the past decade, even as the economy and tax revenues have steadily grown. Congress has not spent the time it should haggling over appropriate spending levels.

And the shutdown deadlines have become opportunities for pressing other issues. This time, Democrats want to attach a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) fix to the CR. A solution for those immigrants who were brought to this country illegally by their parents must be found before the March deadline set by President Donald Trump, lest 800,000 of them face deportation. Most Republicans also want a fix.

That’s an urgent matter. But it should be debated on its own merits and passed as part of a separate immigration bill, not leveraged in the spending resolution.

Both Democrats and Republicans have found political advantage in bringing the government to the brink of shutdown time and again.

But for the country, these games have lost their intrigue. Let the lights go off or not, but all incumbents should be prepared to pay the price on Election Day. Such ongoing nonsense could very quickly put the country in a throw-the-rascals-out mood.