Senate Democrats decided to duck a budget debate this year presumably so vulnerable party members up for re-election won't have to answer embarrassing questions about taxes, federal debt and the way the government spends its money.
That scofflaw position should become a hindrance, not a help, to continuing Democratic control of the Senate.
This year, for the first time in years, Congress faces a clear choice of paths for the federal budget, one around which a new national consensus could be built on the choices necessary to restore long-term budget stability and shrink the burden of the public debt. The way is open for this long-overdue debate because the extraordinary costs of recovery from the worst recession in decades are now largely behind us.
But without Senate participation, that debate will not happen. If taxpayers and other citizens are concerned about the nation's continued growth, prosperity and strength - and they should all be concerned - they should react against the Senate Democrats' decision to skip the debate in favor of the pursuit of short-term political goals.
The time for kicking this particular can down the road has expired.
The political aspects of the decision were evident in remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid early this month, when he attempted to link the House budget to the Koch brothers, who have contributed generously to conservative causes and politicians.
"It's a blueprint for a modern . how would we say this? Koch-topia," Sen. Reid said, in comments quoted by Politico. The online news report described it as "the latest volley in Democrats' mid-term election year strategy of attacking the Kochs repeatedly, hoping to fire up their liberal base and associate Republicans with the brothers in the minds of voters."
Never mind that preparing a budget is one of the Senate's essential duties under the law. Without Senate participation, Americans are left with empty choices between the president's budget, the House budget resolution, recently adopted without a single Democratic vote, and current law.
President Obama's budget projects that deficits will fall, but still has the government spending more than it is expected to take in over the next decade.
And Mr. Obama remains silent on the question of what to do, while there is still time, about the federal-spending explosion that the Congressional Budget Office forecasts will occur beyond the next 10 years without fundamental fiscal reforms.
The long-term House spending plan, primarily crafted by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cuts spending more than the president's budget, projecting no deficit in the 10th year.
It also looks 20 to 30 years ahead to show the positive effects of making tough spending decisions now, requiring changes in the drivers of long-term deficits, the nation's safety nets for the poor and elderly.
By refusing to take part in creating a legally mandated congressional budget this year, Senate Democrats hope to run against the Ryan budget's austerity measures. In effect, they are pretending that the government does not have to face basic choices about spending and taxes.
The longer Washington keeps putting off those decisions, the more difficult they will become.
And unless elected officials from both parties find a way to stabilize the federal government's long-term bottom line, the risk of a future fiscal meltdown will keep rising.
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