President Obama gave a speech today on infrastructure and the Highway Trust Fund – a pot of money states use for roads and bridges. If congress doesn’t act, the Department of Transportation says that fund will run out of money next month. So it seems we will see another “stopgap bill” – a “short-term fix,” a “patch.”
After a while, the fiscal crises kind of blend together, don’t they? All the continuing resolutions? The last-minute debt-ceiling deals?
“This is one heck of a way to run a railroad,” says Greg Valliere, the Potomac Research Group’s chief political strategist. “It makes it very difficult for companies to hire, to plan for benefits, to buy supplies.”
According to Linda Fowler, who teaches government at Dartmouth College, short-term legislation is also hard on federal agencies that contract with these companies.
“It makes it impossible to have an orderly bidding process, to get the best price, for people to plan their budgets over the long run, and set priorities,” she notes. “This is just very inefficient and wasteful.”
What could become landmark legislation – immigration reform and tax reform, to name just two examples – falls to the wayside.
“A lot of the issues out there that you think can be solved, and will be solved more easily if they are addressed earlier, as opposed to later, aren’t getting addressed at all,” says Matt Dickinson, who chairs Middlebury College’s political science department.
According to David Canon, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, this dysfunction dates back at least a decade. At first it affected budget issues, and programs like the Highway Trust Fund, which funnel money into both Democratic and Republican districts, were safe. But times have changed.
“Everyone loves building highways,” he says. “And now we can’t even agree on funding that.”
Canon says that, as the government lurches from deadline to deadline, it’s capable of doing real damage.