Following the House’s lead, Mikulski wants to add to the measure her panel’s fiscal 2013 appropriations for the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and Homeland Security departments. She believes there are few, if any, differences with the House on these, and in turn she expects no Senate changes in the Defense and Veterans Affairs money already in the CR.
Mikulski also wants to give the same type of flexibility to other federal agencies in dealing with the sequester that the House has given to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. She told reporters Thursday what she had in mind would be “enhanced transfer reprogram authority” so that not only Hagel but other secretaries and agency heads could move fiscal 2013 money around.
Whatever changes the Senate makes will have to be approved by the House or taken to a House-Senate conference. In the past, differences between the bodies could be negotiated, but times have changed.
Now the question is: Can the Senate get the job done?
The chamber, run by the Democrats, has its own set of operational problems that have been well documented in recent years. Last week, former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., joined the critics’ chorus. While his focus was on the Senate’s lack of oversight, particularly over national security and foreign affairs, the weaknesses he cited could be easily applied to government spending and tax policies that got the country into this mess.
Webb cited a lack of time for senators to develop expertise to deal with serious issues in an article entitled “Legislative Irrelevance.” It appeared in the National Interest, a bimonthly publication of the Center for the National Interest.
“The electoral process has become more obsessed with the necessities of fundraising . . . as the political messages themselves have been reduced to blunt one-line phrases,” he wrote. In his article and during a discussion last week at the Center, Webb correctly put part of the blame on print reporters who don’t take time to explain issues while the electronic media push politicians who lose sight of reality “as the cameras roll and the ever-present microphones are thrust into their faces putting one a mere five minutes away from a YouTube blast that might ruin his or her career.”
Of course, even passage of a fiscal 2013 CR will not solve the deficit problem, nor end the country lurching from one fiscal crisis to another. In January, Congress only temporarily solved the debt limit issue. That will come up again by August.
This roller coaster has no end in sight.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post and writes the Fine Print column.