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GUEST COMMENTARY: The budget process remains broken

Think about this for a moment: Two days away from a federal shutdown, Congress comes up with a stopgap measure to keep the government operating... for a week. A few days later it arrives at a bipartisan budget deal lasting a bit over four months. This, in turn, moves the President to take to Twitter with the following statement: "Our country needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix mess!"

With respect to President Trump, this assertion seems more focused on settling political scores than on the good of the country. There is no "good" shutdown. The last time it happened, in 2013, it cost the economy $24 billion, according to Standard & Poor's at the time. National institutions get shuttered, federal loans and support for veterans are frozen, state and local governments face cash shortages, and the country's most economically vulnerable must shift for themselves.

We're the world's greatest democracy, and every few months we have to contemplate the very real possibility that the government might close its doors. How can it be that the most important document of the federal government — remember, the budget is the national blueprint for what we'll do and how we'll do it — gets handled in such a distressing, irrational, ineffective, uneconomic, and almost nonsensical manner? I'll tell you how: We keep electing people who tell us they're distressed about conducting business in this fashion and then year after year fail to get us back on track.

Because make no mistake, we know how to do it better. Congress did it for many decades. We had a steady annual process that offered the country a democratic and politically rational mechanism for deciding on our priorities and how to fund them.

We haven't followed it since the middle of the 1990s. Instead, we've been forced to live with high-stakes fiscal brinksmanship. The current budget deal, negotiated between Republicans and Democrats, has the virtue of having included both parties at the table with give and take on both sides. But let's not mistake it for good process. Congress is still putting the budget together with no accountability, no transparency, and scanty debate.

This is a real challenge to our representative democracy. The government faces enormous responsibilities at home and abroad, and the budget is the blueprint for how it's going to deal with them. Isn't it time we started getting it right?

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