Spending bills stall with slim majority

U.S. Capitol Building

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: George Mitchell's former colleagues down in the Senate seem to be losing their grip on the federal purse strings. The fiscal year started more than two months ago, but Congress still hasn't passed 11 of the 12 bills that fund the government, and those aren't the only pieces of economic legislation going nowhere.

Marketplace's Jill Barshay reports.


JILL BARSHAY: Democrats are not having much luck passing bills to do with the budget, taxes, energy, agriculture, health insurance or housing. Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the Democrats have a 51-vote majority in the Senate, but that's not enough.

BOB GREENSTEIN: Most economic legislation is stalled on the Hill. It moves through the House. It either then stalls in the Senate, being unable to secure 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, or the President vetoes it.

The business community is helping to erect those 60-vote barriers. Jay Timmons is the policy director at the National Association of Manufacturers. His group opposed an energy bill because it didn't want to lose tax breaks.

JAY TIMMONS: The fact that some things aren't getting done is actually a good thing from a perspective of the economy and jobs.

Timmons says Congress is getting some things done. It passed the Peru Free Trade agreement. He hopes Congress will still pass legislation to make sure more than 20 million Americans aren't hit with the Alternative Minimum Tax next year.

TIMMONS: It's really not unusual at all for legislation to be piled up, if you will, at the end. Congress will work right into the 11th hour to get everything done and wrapped up.

Timmons and Greenstein both say the current logjam isn't a problem for the economy yet, but Greenstein says if the economy continues to deteriorate, the gridlock in Congress might prevent lawmakers from acting quickly and effectively. The government would have to spend money fast and early to offset a recession.

I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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