2 differing approaches  to 2 budget disputes

e-cartoon-feb-21-2019In so many ways, our government officials look  to the United States (US) government  and see how it operates with a view to applying  what they learn to  local conditions and problems. They must now  be following closely US President Donald Trump’s battle to get $5.7 billion from a US Congress  that refuses to provide it for a wall along the US-Mexico border.

The first time Trump did not get $5.7 billion for his wall – a campaign promise he is determined  to fulfill  --  he preferred to reject the entire federal budget for  2019  and  as a result,  most of the US federal government had to shut down last December.

He relented after about a month and the US federal government reopened. But he has resorted to another tactic to get the funds for his wall. He declared a national emergency and  moved to get $5.7 billion from the  US Pentagon funds for military construction, the military’s anti-drug fund, and  the Treasury Department’s drug forfeiture fund.

His declaration of an emergency has now been challenged in court. There is no real emergency on the southern border, it is claimed. Much more crucial to  Congress, including  the president’s own Republican Party leaders, is the  view that  Trump’s move may have violated the US Constitution  which vests in Congress  alone the right to determine where public funds must go.

We in the Philippines  had a similar problem over our  national budget  a few months ago. A senator claimed that members of  our  House of Representatives  had  included billions  of pesos  -- alleged “pork barrel” -- for  public works projects  in their districts. The congressmen  countered that members of the Senate had included their own billions for their own projects. Finally, some  House leaders charged that a member of the Duterte Cabinet, the secretary of budget and management, had included his own billions.

After all the claims and counter-claims, charges and counter-charges, the National Budget was finally approved by the bicameral Conference Committee in Congress. Our officials reached a consensus which, after all, is the essence of democratic governance.  And finding a consensus is part of our Asian culture as Filipinos.

It is not likely that American officials will  reach  a similar consensus on their budget problem. Trump’s declaration of an emergency just  so he  could transfer public  funds  has now been challenged in US courts. It is bound  to reach the US Supreme Court.  A legal decision will ultimately  resolve  the  problem.

This is as it should be, in the view of many,  in a government of laws and not of men. On the other hand, because of our readiness to make allowances, a key part of our Asian culture, we quickly resolved the problem of our budget.

Someday, perhaps, we shall be able to decide which solution was in the best interest  of the nation.