Fiscal impasse leaves government on autopilot and in danger

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Just last year, President BidenJoe BidenNorth Korea conducts 6th potential missile test in a month Clyburn predicts Supreme Court nominee J. Michelle Childs will win GOP votes overnight Defense and National Security – US Provides Response written to Russia MORE stood on the west facade of the United States Capitol and was sworn in. His inauguration was seen by many as an opportunity to move beyond the contentious and often ineffective governance of the previous four years and return to capable governance that responds to the American people, even as high levels of acrimony and partisan polarization remain.

Unfortunately, more than a year after Biden took office, that commitment is in jeopardy as the federal government continues to operate under the previous president’s budget, which does not reflect the priorities the public voted for or who responds to a dynamic and changing environment.

Government cannot operate optimally on autopilot. This is important for a number of reasons, including responding to the ever-evolving and global COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring careful oversight of the huge infrastructure bill that promises to bring change transformative to communities across the country if properly administered, ensuring the nation’s security and military preparedness in the face of a changing threat environment and a empty diplomatic corps.

Recently, officials from the Ministry of Defense raised concerns that the budget impasse threatens military readiness due to uncertainty over retention and recruitment. The news on the Internal Revenue Service also highlight the challenges of the most basic responsibilities of government. Staffing issues, exacerbated by COVID, have resulted in weak enforcement and loss of revenue, increasing tax evasion, and a severe lack of responsiveness by IRS agents to filers.

While the previous administration ultimately failed by reducing the number of federal employees in all areas, cuts to specific agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, are making it more difficult to respond to the pandemic, as well as the ongoing overdose epidemic.

The fiscal impasse threatens the country’s ability to address our significant public health challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to illustrate both the health risks to the public and also highlights the price we are paying for decades of neglect of our national public health system. The United States is positioned as the leading country in terms of investment in health promotion, but the pandemic has illustrated the many weaknesses. While our investments in biomedical research continue to lead the world, we risk losing our pre-eminence and not being at the forefront of future technologies and innovations. COVID-19 has shown the importance of disease surveillance to identify and monitor emerging variants, but even with new investments, we are far behind many other countries.

One of the surprising and important health achievements of the previous administration was its commitment to ending the national HIV epidemic by 2030. This has always been an ambitious goal, and even though Congress has invested significant new funds to respond to the national HIV epidemic, these levels of funding have never matched the needs projections of the last administration. This initiative has bipartisan support, but without an annual budget, funding to end the HIV epidemic will be stable and not provide the $267 million increase that Biden has requested. Like many other issues, HIV prevention and care has been underfunded, COVID-19 has likely impeded our efforts, and these increases are needed to sustain and accelerate our progress.

Admittedly, this is not the first time that a continuing resolution has maintained federal government funding. The issue of congressional polarization and the inability to pass a budget has been repeatedly emphasized during the last years. But today, the broken process has more serious repercussions given the experience of the past four years and the threats to the grassroots fiber of our government.

The COVID pandemic, overdose deaths, the country’s crumbling infrastructure, and military preparedness are just a few of the areas at risk given our current fiscal stalemate. Moreover, as we get closer to a presidential election in 2024, the outlook dims for passing a budget that reflects this administration’s priorities and responds to current challenges.

The swearing in of a new president was only the first step in righting the wrongs of the previous administration. Passing a budget for 2022 is critically important as we seek not only to rebuild the country’s infrastructure from the ground up, but also to restore confidence that our government can meet the needs of Americans.

Regina LaBelle, JD, and Jeffrey S. Crowley, MPH, are initiative directors at The O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. Both served in the Obama administration in the President’s Executive Office. Most recently, LaBelle served as acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Biden administration.

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