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Congress, Interrupted.

The federal government has, once again, narrowly avoided being shut down:  Congress passed a continuing resolution (a sort of short-term spending plan), to fund the federal government until the end of the fiscal year. Continuing resolutions, or C.R.’s, give Congress the extra time to come to an agreement about budget plans so that they can really dig deep into American issues. At least, that’s what we hoped they would be doing.

Within the pages of the latest C.R. were permanent restrictions on how the government can control guns, as well as the Monsanto Protection Act. This act set a precedent, where in a court challenge about the distribution of genetically modified crops, the Department of Agriculture must allow a corporation, like Monsanto, to continue selling genetically modified food. What’s really shocking is that when Congress admitted to having little knowledge of this matter, it was because they didn’t review the provision. As it turns out, lawmakers in Congress don’t always review the laws they are passing. In this case, they were more eager to continue their own funding than to really take the time to analyze the laws that Americans have to live by. The fact one of the most powerful countries in the world is passing unrevised bills is troubling; the fact that so many lawmakers show so little interest in the bills that they themselves are passing indicates a serious problem with the way the American government is working.

Continuing resolutions are so commonplace because Congress sees them as ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ cards to be used whenever they want. Since 2003, there have been 36 C.R.’s passed. The consequences are cyclic: Congress stops reviewing C.R.’s, so lawmakers find it permissible to slip in certain provisions that further their own ends, which go unrevised because Congress stops caring about C.R.’s, so they stop reviewing them, and so on and so on. Not only does this impose certain impermissible provisions on the American people, it also lets Congress procrastinate on finding a solution, which we all know only exacerbates the problem at hand.

That Congress can just throw up their hands in defeat every few months, say “I don’t know, let’s try again in a little while,” without any real repercussions for them makes this all seem acceptable. Congress can wait until an answer comes to them, instead of actually searching for the answers.

But in order for this vicious cycle to end, C.R.’s need to stop being so commonplace, and Congress must face actual repercussions for not coming to a decision. In other words, there must be a limit on how many C.R.’s are allowed per year. That way, Congress will not be able to take a federal time-out and procrastinate finding a solution.

Lawmakers need to start taking lawmaking seriously. Republican senator Mitch McConnell said in 2010: “Americans want us to take our time and get things right.” In 2013, Democrat senator Tom Harkin agreed: “I believe the Senate ought to be a place where we slow things down.” Well, clearly, it’s time that they start.

– Zoë Knowles


Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercial  SpeakerBoehner, Creative Commons, Flickr


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