Congress: Here we go again

@CNNMoney March 21, 2012: 5:28 AM ET
Congress already had a lot of major issues to fight about at the end of this year. Now fiscal experts expect the 2013 budget to be added to the list.

Congress already had a lot of major issues to fight about at the end of this year. Now fiscal experts expect the 2013 budget to be added to the list.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- And they're at it again.

Democrats and Republicans are knowingly running in different directions as fast as they can to come up with a budget for the next fiscal year that they know won't fly with the other side.

On Tuesday the House GOP put out a budget proposal that assumes a cap on discretionary spending of $1.028 trillion, or $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion cap set in last summer's budget deal.

Senate Democrats accuse House Republicans of acting in bad faith and say they will stick with the original cap when divvying up funds. Republicans said they're not acting in bad faith; they see the cap set in last summer's deal as a ceiling, not a level up to which they must spend.

No matter which party you side with -- and it's easy to make the case why each has a fair point -- the end result is a net negative for the cause of fiscal progress in Washington.

"It's just more evidence that the budget process is totally broken and that's bad for governance," said former Congressional Budget Director Rudolph Penner.

After all, passing a budget for the new fiscal year, which starts in October, is one of lawmakers' most basic jobs. Yet this Congress seems to have turned the exercise into death-defying extreme sport for adrenalin junkies.

Obama's unveil's $3.8 trillion budget

Remember last year? Lawmakers weren't able to finish their budgetary duties until halfway through the fiscal year, and then only after passing seven short-term spending bills, often with hours to spare before the government would have shut down due to lack of authorized funds.

This year, hopes are dim that the situation will improve. Instead, financing the government for fiscal year 2013 is likely to be added to the long list of issues Congress will postpone dealing with until the last two months of the year, after the elections.

That's when lawmakers will try to avoid driving off the so-called "fiscal cliff.": the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts; the nearly $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts no one wants but that will hit in January; the expiration of the "doc fix," which has protected Medicare physicians' payments from a drastic cut; and the expiration of a host of smaller tax breaks and emergency unemployment benefits.

"What you have is kind of a chaotic marching up to the cliff," Penner said. "While [lawmakers] may scare us to death along the way, by 11 p.m. on Dec. 31 they will have come to agreement to extend everything and will split the difference on discretionary spending."

But even then, fiscal experts don't expect that lawmakers will reach any serious long-term solution.

"I hate to think about it, but all of what we're discussing will be done on a temporary basis," said Penner. To top of page

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