Congress at it again

@CNNMoney September 23, 2011: 3:29 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- To those still trying to salvage homes wrecked by natural disasters this summer, don't worry. Congress has your back.

There is just no way lawmakers would let funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency run out.

Well, they probably won't. They don't want to anyway. But they've now left open the possibility that they might.

Once again, Congress is manufacturing a crisis -- the third this year. Lawmakers are putting the country at risk of a government shutdown, creating pointless uncertainty over what used to be ordinary legislative business.

Why? House Republicans and Senate Democrats can't agree on the terms of a bill that would continue to fund the government temporarily beyond Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends.

FEMA funding is a key part of that dispute. (Here's the lowdown on the gory details.)

Newest spat in Congress not helping economy

Leaders from both parties, meanwhile, are making histrionic statements about how irresponsible the other side is if it doesn't yield more ground.

It might be amusing if it weren't so serious.

Consider that Congress is now risking a government shutdown over a temporary funding bill just to get the country through Nov. 18. That would give lawmakers more time to reach accord on the full-year budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1.

The chances they reach accord by Nov. 18, however, are not high. The 2011 budget was passed six months late and with only minutes to spare before the government would have had to shut down. Getting to that point, meanwhile, required seven temporary spending bills along the way.

A few months later, Congress created an artificial crisis again -- this time over increasing the debt ceiling. The consequences of that episode went far beyond the problems of a shut down. It actually earned the United States its first-ever credit downgrade by Standard & Poor's and hurt the country's reputation.

S&P's reasoning? "The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed."

There's another reason Congress might not wrap up its 2012 budget by Nov. 18. That date runs dangerously close to the Nov. 23 deadline for the bipartisan super committee to deliver its deficit-reduction legislation to the House and Senate for expedited consideration.

That committee is charged with proposing ways to reduce deficits over 10 years by at least $1.2 trillion. There's no telling yet what -- if any -- recommendations it will make that could affect fiscal year 2012. Nor is there any indication the committee will be able to put forth any legislation at all.

Doing so would require seven of the 12 members to agree, and that's not a guarantee. The committee is, after all, a panel drawn from the same Congress that is currently fighting over what amounts to budgetary peanuts.

Out of a $3 trillion-plus annual federal budget, the House and Senate are fighting over less than $10 billion in FEMA funding and potential offsets to pay for it.

Whatever principles lawmakers think they're upholding by refusing to broker a deal, it's unlikely that those principles will mean much to the people who are trying to rebuild their lives stolen by historic floods and wildfires. To top of page

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