The eyes of Texas are on Congress (and McCarthy).
The biennial Texas Legislative Session is underway in Austin through May 29. It’s the 88th such gathering in the state’s history. If you’re not familiar, the Texas Legislature meets in regular session for only 140 days and only in odd-numbered years to, in part, “…hold hearings to consider all bills and resolutions and other matters then pending…”
One matter that is always pending for the regular legislative session is passing a budget. Texas, like most states (and unlike the federal government), is prohibited by its constitution from passing a deficit budget. Texas can’t legally spend more than it takes in.
That won’t be a problem this session. Texas is projecting a budget surplus north of $50 billion. One of the big arguments in this legislative session will center on what to do with all that money. (Call me crazy, but how about returning a bunch of it to the taxpayers?)
Such is not always the case, however. Sometimes, the Texas Legislature faces a revenue shortfall. When that happens, lawmakers must reduce or eliminate programs, defer capital projects and in general do the hard and often unpleasant work of setting priorities and saying “no” to constituents.
The process isn’t always pretty. But Texas generally does a good job of setting a budget and sticking to it when expected revenues fall short of proposed expenditures. The Texas Legislature, like all legislative bodies, suffers for being populated by politicians. But give them credit. Texas is one of the best run states in the Union.
Contrast the Texas Legislature to the U.S. Congress. It has been decades since Congress actually passed a budget. There is no real budget process in Washington anymore. The U.S. government is funded from year to year either by omnibus spending bills, where separate appropriations for each area of government are mushed into a massive, bloated, pustulated bill that can be passed with a single vote so that specific spending can’t be readily scrutinized — or by continuing resolutions, where lawmakers mindlessly vote to just keep spending what they have been spending.
There is no priority setting. There is no reducing or eliminating programs. There is no hard work. There certainly isn’t any saying, “no” to constituents.
As a result, revenues haven’t exceeded expenditures in decades. Those deficits are financed by borrowing and that debt balance now stands at a mind-numbing $31.5 trillion.
But the U.S. has hit its “debt limit.” The United States –right now, today – cannot borrow so much as the price of a cup of coffee until Congress votes to authorize an increase in that limit.
The Biden administration wants Congress to simply increase the debt limit. (Most) Republicans in Congress want cuts in spending as a precondition.
Texas’s fiscal house is in order. Amazingly, it is still possible to get America’s fiscal house in order, too. But that has to start now. We can’t keep on like this.
So, we’re about to see just what kind of man House Speaker Kevin McCarthy really is. And we’re about to see if Republicans are, in truth, any better than Democrats.