Bolling: The Federal Budget Process Is Seriously Broken, and Congress Is To Blame

It seems like we see an article like this every few months: Congress approves short-term extension to avert shutdown, buy more time for final spending agreement (Richmond Times-Dispatch).

Congress passes another “short term extension,” otherwise known as a Continuing Resolution, to keep the federal government funded.

Why do we see these repetitive “short term extensions”? Because the political polarization in Congress prevents the members of the Senate and House of Representatives from doing their job the way it is supposed to be done and passing a long term federal spending plan.

If American families ran their households this way they would be bankrupt. If American businesses ran their businesses this way the CEOs and CFOs would probably end up in jail.

But for Congress, this is business as usual.

Here’s how the federal budget process is supposed to work.

Every year, the President submits an annual spending plan to the Senate and the House of Representatives for their consideration. In a functional political environment, the Congress would then debate and amend the President’s budget and adopt a final budget to govern federal spending for the ensuing fiscal year, which always begins on October 1.

Unfortunately, it has not happened this way for many years. In fact, the last time the Congress adopted a comprehensive federal budget on time was in 1997, some 27 years ago! As unbelievable as that may sound, it is true.

In the nearly five decades that the current system for budgeting and spending tax dollars has been in place, Congress has passed all its required appropriations measures on time only four times: fiscal 1977 (the first full fiscal year under the current system), 1989, 1995, and 1997.

In every other year, Congress has relied on these so-called Continuing Resolutions to fund different sections of the federal government, and there have been a number of times when they were not even able to do this.

Since the adoption of the current budgeting system in 1977, there have been 21 full or partial government shutdowns. The last one was in 2019 under former President Donald Trump which lasted 35 days. This was the longest shut down we have experienced.

Members of Congress earn $174,000/year, and enjoy other benefits that are much better than those provided to most other American workers. Clearly, they have proven themselves incapable of doing their most basic job – adopting a comprehensive federal budget on time.

Here’s a thought. If the Congress fails to adopt a comprehensive federal budget on time, their pay and other benefits should be suspended until they do so. It may take something as dramatic as this to get them working together for the good of the country, instead of spending their time trying to protect their own political interests.

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