The Ides of April

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By Jane Calderwood
“April is the cruelest month” or so TS Elliot wrote in The Waste Land.  We know that is true for the American taxpayer.  And, April 2012 has turned out to be no picnic for the General Services Administration and the Secret Service.

Congress returned to D.C. this week after a two-week break but House members won’t have much time to settle back in as they start a two-weeks-in-one-week-off schedule for the next two-and-a-half months before moving to a four-day/week for four weeks in July with five weeks off in August.  They come back to work for a total of 13 days in September and October combined. Nice work if you can get it.

Another One Bites the Dust:  While Congress was out, yet another House member, New York Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), announced his retirement only a few days after his campaign announced he’d submitted his petitions in order to get on the ballot.  Towns becomes the 25th member of the House to send out a retirement press release and when combined with the 12 members running for Senate, three who have lost primaries (so far), three running for other offices, six resignations and one death, the House now has 50 members who won’t be back.  And there are still plenty of primaries left including several pitting member-against-member.  So there will be a number of unfamiliar faces roaming the hallways of the House at the start of the 113th Congress; the only question is how many?

Deadlines Are for Missing: Federal law requires Congress to have completed work on the federal budget by April 15:  another deadline missed.  The House should be given points for having at passed their budget.  In a move that has left me more than a bit puzzled, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) introduced his budget proposal on April 17 and announced his plans to mark up the proposal this month. This doesn’t appear to have fazed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.),  who earlier this year announced he had no intention of considering a budget resolution.  Nor does it mean a great deal considering the Senate Appropriations Committee has already set its 302(b) allocations, which determine how much money each subcommittee has to play with; and which the budget resolution historically used to set.  And, of course, there is no reason for the House to consider another budget since they’ve passed theirs and moving forward with their appropriations process.

If you and I missed that other magical April deadline (Taxman) we’d face a penalty.  Congress, on the other hand, continues to regularly violate the April 15 deadline for having agreed to a concurrent budget resolution and the Oct. 1 deadline for passing appropriations bills, leaving the American public to pay the penalty.  This year the penalty could be especially hefty given the fact that Congress punted the deficit problem to January 2013 when automatic across-the-board cuts, also known as sequestration, will take effect if Congress fails to make the cuts necessary to meet the deficit level it set last year.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:  There are a few members who appear to be interested in changing the chaos that is Congress and restoring ‘regular order’.  Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) have introduced legislation known as ‘No Budget, No Pay’ in their respective chambers.  This legislation would make it illegal for members of Congress to be paid after the beginning of the next fiscal year (Oct. 1) unless Congress had approved a concurrent budget resolution and passed all the regular appropriations bills.  It also prohibits Congress from retroactively restoring its own pay.  The Senate bill has 10 cosponsors and the House has 43.  Not exactly a huge endorsement, but perhaps a small step toward restoring some sanity to the process.