Settle down for some budget theatre

My Monday column for the Financial Times:

Between now and the latter part of December, the US Congress and the White House will revive a much-loved theatrical tradition: the battle of appropriations.



Back in February George W. Bush set out his budget request for spending in the fiscal year that started in October. Congress then devised a plan of its own, not that different from the president’s. Spending bills conforming to that scheme have duly been passed by both houses. Mr Bush, accusing Congress of fiscal irresponsibility, says he will veto most of them. There will now be weeks of accusations and counter-accusations, talk of fiscal paralysis and threats of dire consequences.



It is no way to run a government but the delays and uncertainty, the preening and posing, the stunts and thrills, at least have a cosy familiarity. It would seem strange to have spending bills passed in an orderly fashion, in time for the fiscal year they relate to, so that no omnibus packages or other routine emergency manoeuvres were required to keep the wheels of government turning – all quite out of the ordinary. This performance is not about good government, after all. It is about making a point.



The White House’s point, and I laugh as I write this, is that the Democrats cannot be trusted with the public purse.

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