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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

“Continuing Resolution” – Are You Asleep Yet?

It's public policy Ambien

There are some phrases in politics that are designed to whip you up into a state of frenzy, such as “Operation Desert Storm” or “USA PATRIOT Act.”

Others are meant to instill a sense of confidence in the results, such as “Affordable Care Act.”

Others are meant to cause you to pay no attention at all. These can be the worst parts of political language. They are likely masking some egregious immorality, like a secret pillaging, away from public view, without taking responsibility.

A great example is a common phrase we associate with budget talk: “continuing resolution.”

It’s the kind of phrase that you hear on NPR that prompts you to change the station. It sounds like the kind of bureaucratic white noise batted around in a meeting you are glad you didn’t have to attend. Like most budget terminology, it is a disguise, one designed to cause you to look the other way — or not look at all.

So what is a “continuing resolution”? It is a phrase that Congress uses when it doesn’t want to appropriate funds and hence take responsibility for spending trillions of dollars of other people’s money. The point of the continuing resolution is not to make any decisive decisions for or against anything but rather to wave the magic hand that says: “carry on.”

It’s a way to get around the deadline that forces members of Congress to own up to their ideologies and loyalties, and go on record with their commitments. And it means passing up the chance to act on the one remaining power they have in an age of executive supremacy: the allocation of money.

There’s a scene in Atlas Shrugged when the central planners are at a loss as to how to fix a failing economy in light of dramatic economic change. Their solution: everyone should proceed with doing precisely what they did last year. No changes allowed. 

This approach amounts to a denial of reality. In Atlas, the economy was changing and needed adjustment. So too is politics in our time, as every poll reveals historically low approval ratings for government in general and Congress in particular.

Senator Rand Paul makes the point well: