There is a depressing number of existing federal programs still limping along under short-term extensions of outdated policy because Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on the terms of their reauthorization.
This category includes programs for low-income Americans, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the farm bill, which includes a raft of agribusiness subsidies and regulations as well as food stamps; without its passage, dairy prices will go through the roof in January for reasons only ag-law experts understand.
There was some hope that this might be the year Congress finally came up with a permanent solution to the perennial "doc fix" staving off scheduled cuts to Medicare physician reimbursements that Congress adopted in 1997 but that doctors argue would drive many of them out of work. This year, the Congressional Budget Office announced that a permanent doc fix would cost $136 billion over 10 years, a dramatic reduction from previous estimates. The lower estimate is attributable to slowing inflation of overall health costs. Prompted by that good news, House and Senate tax-writing committees developed a "framework" for the doc fix, but they still haven't come up with a convincing way to pay for it.
And now the annual defense authorization bill is caught up in the wrangling. For each of the last 51 years, Congress has passed a fresh law setting forth policy for the Pentagon. National security and the billions in spending for constituents back home compelled the House and Senate to act. Alas, the bill has stalled in the Senate, partly because of Sen. David Vitter's, R-La., time-consuming attempt to attach an anti-Obamacare amendment to a separate bill, partly because of Republican demands to offer more amendments than Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants and partly because of controversy over reforming the military's sexual-assault prosecutions.
Unless this knot can be untangled, the casualty list of congressional dysfunction will grow to include the most basic federal responsibility of all: national defense.