Financial risk may overcome inertia on budget

Last Friday, House Speaker John Boehner said 1,361 days had passed since the Senate last passed a budget resolution. If his math is correct, the most recent budget was OK’d by the Senate 1,368 days ago.

Senate Democrats, who have had a majority in that chamber during that span, can claim it would be useless to approve a budget because the GOP-led House would reject it. Plus, a budget resolution is a guide for actual spending – and Republicans in the Senate could block the resulting omnibus appropriations bill.

Of course, Senate Democrats could have passed a spending plan more palatable to Republicans in both chambers. But why do that when continuing resolutions and appropriations bills can keep government operating without making deals to reduce spending or reform entitlement programs?

Meanwhile, incentives to agree on a new budget – politely called earmarks – have been limited. The House voluntarily approved a ban on park-barrel spending in 2010, and the Senate followed suit in 2011. Without pork to grease the skids, a budget can grind to a halt.

Now, members of Congress must find another reason to compromise. It appears the threat of fiscal collapse may – hopefully – provide that. We may not get a balanced budget, but we may get one that doesn’t contain earmarks. Too bad that didn’t happen, say, 1,000 days ago.