Washington Matters


More Band-Aids for the Federal Budget

Richard Sammon

Congress will avert a government shutdown, but the budget process remains gummed-up.



Once again, Congress will fail to pass a federal budget before Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins. A bipartisan agreement that resolves a dispute over providing disaster relief will keep federal agencies and functions operating, sparing the country the spectacle of a shutdown. But the deal is merely a short-term resolution that funds federal programs at levels Congress already approved for the current fiscal year.

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Even as it is applauded by House and Senate leaders, the stopgap measure masks a much deeper shortcoming in Congress: the continuing inability to pass annual appropriations bills on time.

The Oct. 1 deadline is for enacting the entire federal budget, not just for passing a short-term funding patch. But emergency, short-term bills have become commonplace, and there’s little bipartisan resolve to pass appropriations legislation on time.

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So far this year, not one of the regular spending bills for 2012 has been sent to President Obama for his signature, and most are not even close to being completed. The GOP-run House has passed six spending bills this year; the Democrat-run Senate has passed only one.

A similar budget snafu occurred last year when Democrats controlled both chambers on Capitol Hill and not one of the 12 annual appropriations bills became law. Instead, congressional appropriators ended up combining all of the unfinished spending bills together in a giant omnibus package.

The same is likely to happen this year. The catch-all will be thousands of pages long, and lawmakers will have little time to review or debate it before voting on it. And if members can’t agree on a giant bill, Congress will have no other choice but to pass more short-term funding legislation later this year to keep the government going. It’s government in fits and starts, hardly the way they system is supposed to work.

Note, too, that there’s also no budget resolution in place this year — again, for the fifth time in 10 years. The annual budget resolution sets spending and revenue levels for the entire government and serves as a blueprint for the whole budget process. It helps guide lawmakers through the appropriations process, making spending decisions easier and more deliberate. The absence of one is yet another factor in what has become an annual deadline-rushed ritual.



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