Why it's so hard for Congress to pass a budget

Why it's so hard for Congress to pass a budget

The most basic responsibility Congress has is deciding how much money the government takes in and how much it spends. But Congress has passed its spending bills on time only four times since 1952, and not at all since 1997.

The upshot is a more wasteful and inefficient government. When Congress fails to pass spending bills on time, it relies on temporary spending measures called continuing resolutions — which provide the money federal agencies need to operate based roughly on what they spent the previous year. What continuing resolutions don’t provide is any chance for Congress to debate the most fundamental question of all: Why are we spending this money?

Congress spends first and asks questions later when it should instead be spending only after figuring out what goals it’s trying to achieve.

Omnibus: How the U.S. Congress passes the budgetCongress uses the omnibus spending bill to package together many smaller ordinary appropriations bills into one larger bill that ...

Meanwhile, Congress’ constant stop-and-go budgeting creates havoc for government agencies and the citizens who depend on them.

What if you had to decide whether to buy a new car or go on vacation without having any idea what your salary was or even how much money you had? That would be almost impossible. But this is the situation facing federal agencies that often don’t know how much money they’re getting or when it’s coming. This uncertainty has severe consequences.

What happens when a budget isn't passed?

Failing to pass a timely budget in 2011 led to:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration delaying hiring of new air traffic controllers;
  • The National Institutes of Health postponing grants for cutting-edge medical research;
  • The Defense Department delaying critical maintenance of Humvees and canceling research on next-generation weapon systems; and
  • The State Department cutting staff in Iraq at the same time it was trying to manage the hand-off of civilian control to the Iraqi government.

No Budget No Pay

On February 4, 2013, President Obama signed a debt ceiling extension bill that included a modified No Budget No Pay provision that would withhold member pay in escrow if their respective chambers fail to pass a budget by April 15.

No Labels supported this legislation as a critical step toward a more accountable government. However, we will continue to push for implementation of our stronger No Budget, No Pay proposal, which would require timely passage of both a budget and annual spending bills and would also not allow lost member pay to be recovered once it was withheld.