While Americans applaud the achievements of the lame-duck Congress and the Obama Administration in the final weeks of 2010, they also should note what lawmakers and the White House did not do.
Most egregiously, these officials evaded their duty to enact the spending bills that keep the government running. Instead, Congress enacted a "continuing resolution" that keeps the same funding levels as the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That kicks the issue down the road until March 4.
Republican lawmakers may want to wield the power they will have in the next Congress, based on their November election success, in determining how taxpayers' money will be spent in 2011. Or maybe it was a bipartisan display of sloth and procrastination in the face of tough decision-making.
Either way, lawmakers should have finished the appropriations process before they went home for the holidays. They are now susceptible to the ministrations of lobbyists with cash to hand out as "campaign contributions," even though the next elections are in two years.
And members of the new Congress, which arrives in Washington next week, are unlikely to cede this largesse to the current Congress.
In any event, the downside of lawmakers' failure to act is considerable. Federal departments are left without new authorized funding levels; they can't spend more, or less, with confidence. Decisions must be tentative and provisional, awaiting new congressional action.
Departments also can't make what could be important policy shifts, based on changes of circumstances over the past year, because they don't know whether the new Congress will approve or reject their proposed budgets.
This is not the kind of government Americans have paid for, or deserve. The ougoing Congress did not complete its work. It is incumbent on the new Congress to make up for this dereliction of duty as quickly as possible.