A Congress Going in Political Circles

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have dueling budget plans that everyone knows will never pass, but are great fodder for the 2014 election campaigns.Congressional Republicans have sniped that President Obama is still on the campaign trail after winning re-election last fall. But they are staging their own political theater on the House and Senate floors in offering up budgets that state their principles, but will never be enacted.

Democrats, of course, are doing the same thing, only it takes a lot longer to produce a non-result in the Senate. The GOP-controlled House, after slapping down a Democratic-principle budget, passed its Republican-principle budget and left town. The Senate is still at it, doing the same thing with the same outcome. Eventually it will leave town, too.

All the budget talk is really script-writing for the 2014 congressional elections. Democrats talk about the need to invest to grow the economy. Republicans say reduced spending and a balanced budget will foster economic growth.

Yet some observers take heart that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is the size of a penlight. Buried in all the budget principles of both parties is procedural language that will allow the Senate eventually to vote on a compromise budget without being held hostage to filibuster threats. This wouldn't hearten most people, but in Washington, DC these day's this is what passes for a hopeful sign. After all, in previous years Senate Democrats didn't even bother to produce a budget.

That begs the question of what a budget compromise would actually look like. And it doesn't necessarily address the $85 billion in spending cuts that will take effect as a result of the automatic sequestration triggered by congressional inability to settle on a spending plan earlier.

Before serious adults sit down to pound out a compromise budget, the political apparatus of both parties will have its day in the sun. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted a YouTube video excoriating the GOP budget authored by Congressman Paul Ryan for its massive cuts to entitle spending. The counterpart Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is blasting the handiwork of Senator Patty Murray as long on spending and short on budget balancing.

Even though they consume hours of work and debate, congressional sages tell us congressional budgets are merely symbols. It must be enormously reassuring to financially struggling Americans to know Congress is working on a vision statement for the country. Whatever happened to the old days when people wondered what was going on behind closed doors? Now they wonder what is going on in front of TV cameras.

Some Members of Congress are sensitive about their image. A few have complained that President Obama is at fault for not submitting his own budget. For the President — who is in the Middle East trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to talk, the Iranians to drop their nuclear arms ambitions and the Syrian government to avoid using chemical weapons — coming up with a budget that would be immediately trashed in the House may seem like unnecessary self-flagellation.

So Congress, like a lot of America, will be on spring break. Meanwhile, there seems to be a housing boomlet, the stock market remains hot and inflation is still under control. Even gas prices have edged down.

Chances are most people will more interested in backyard egg hunts than the circular adventures of a Congress that can't get its ducks in a row.