Congress still ducking budget duty

The sun rises behind the Capitol Building in Washington. Congress returns to Washington this week with lots of unfinished business to tend to. (AP Photo/ File)

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

That reversal of a common-sense maxim has long applied to self-serving congressional retreats from hard budgetary calls. And this month, Americans will see more of the shameful same on Capitol Hill, where a stopgap spending bill is due by Sept. 30.

An apt assessment from The New York Times of our national legislature’s overdue — and overcrowded — assignments as it returned to Washington on Tuesday:

“Lawmakers have scheduled a mere 12 legislative days to find a bipartisan compromise to keep the government open, vote on one of the most contentious foreign policy matters in a generation, reconcile the future of funding for Planned Parenthood and roll out the red carpet — and a few thousand folding chairs — to greet Pope Francis.”

Of course, concerns over the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, are valid. However, President Barack Obama has enough Senate votes to avert a filibuster threat to that accord.

Another serious worry, however, remains the haphazard manner in which Congress, in the proverbial sense, keeps “kicking the can down the road” on the budget.

Though Republicans control both chambers of Congress and give lip service to not just general spending restraint but specific spending scrutiny, they run scared from Democratic charges of a GOP-driven government “shutdown.”

And while President Barack Obama wants to spend way too much taxpayer money that the government simply doesn’t have (especially with the national debt at a record and rising $18.2 trillion), he has a fair point about the folly of “sequestered” cuts.

Such automatic limits don’t just absolve elected officials of hard budgetary calls. They impose risky reductions in a variety of areas, including defense.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest decried the “mindless austerity” of that process Tuesday, warning that the president “will not sign into law a budget bill that would lock in sequester levels of spending.”

Of course, those sequester limits, which went into effect at the start of 2013, were mandated by a budget bill that was passed back in 2011, when Democrats still held a Senate majority. And it was signed into law by the president.

But there’s plenty of bipartisan blame to go around for Washington’s responsibility-dodging habit that continues to postpone difficult spending — and yes, taxing — decisions. Just don’t count on Congress delivering any of those tough choices this month.

Our elected officials in Washington still lack the political courage to take on even this year’s short-term budget challenges — maybe even including federal highway funding.

So how and when are they ever going to finally begin the indispensable, monumental mission of long-term entitlement reform?