(By The Pragmatic Pundit)
“The Democrats and the President haven’t passed a budget in over a thousand days” is the Republican’s latest lunkheaded soundbite. They have relentlessly admonished Democrats for failing to pass a budget, as if failure to do so is a historical first.
What’s worse is the media and political pundits help advance what I must correctly call a half-truth in some cases and a flat-out lie in most.
“We are 1,331 days without a budget”, headlines and pundits remind us. Some idiots even have “budget countdown clocks”.
Congress has failed to adopt a final budget four times in the past 35 years — for fiscal years 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 — according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. If the House does not pass a first version of the budget resolution, it will be the first time since the implementation of the 1974 Budget Act, which governs the modern congressional budgeting process.
It isn’t that this is a misinterpretation of what the Congressional Research Service report actually states, but like everyone who caterwauls about the present budget process, the writer gives an impression today’s Congress is fracturing an otherwise well-ordered budget process.
The truth is, since the enactment of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, in order to meet the budget deadline as prescribed by law, Congress has agreed to pass budgets that fail to completely cover government operations. In order to assure that government can continue to function, they enact what are called “continuing resolutions”. In other words, they resolve to let funding continue…and that is the story of the budget.
Here’s a clue: If there were not some kind of blueprint for spending…the government would shutdown. So while I won’t call the latest hype a lie…it is far from the truth.
What follows is a simplistic explanation of the budget process. So before some budgetary nerd gets on his high horse, I should be clear that it is not my intention to present the history or every nuance of Congress. My hope is to lend enough understanding that people will know that the complaints they’re hearing about the lack of a budget is just pure, unadulterated bullpucky.
A Budgetary Process Overview
By law, the President must submit a budget to Congress, usually in early February. The budget is then separated, according to department and issued to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
There are currently 12 committees, consequently 12 appropriation bills must be passed each fiscal year in order for continued spending to occur. The subject of each appropriations bill corresponds to the jurisdiction of the respective House and Senate appropriation committees.
As of 2012, the twelve appropriations bills correspond with:
• Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration
• Commerce, Justice, and Science
• Energy and Water Development
• Financial Services and General Government
• Homeland Security
• Interior and Environment
• Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education
• Legislative Branch
• Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
• State and Foreign Operations
• Transportation and Housing and Urban Development
What typically takes place is that each committee, using the President’s budget as a starting point, write their own version of the budget.
Once each chamber has passed its individual resolution, a “conference committee” negotiates the differences between the two documents and combine it into one. That final document, aptly called a “resolution” is then voted on by each chamber.
In the event the budget differences cannot be resolved by the end of the fiscal year, Congress passes what is called a continuing resolution, in order to avoid a government shutdown. Congress might agree on the budgets for 4 departments and disagree on the remaining. That does not stop them from passing a budget, they simply enact continuing resolutions for the departments where they cannot agree. The federal government is presently functioning on a year-long continuing resolution, just as it did in 2007.
If you listen to the news, pundits and Republicans, President Obama is the only President who has failed to pass a year-long budget. The truth is, it has been 14 years since the House, the Senate and the President have all agreed on a bill to fund the government for an entire fiscal year. Instead both chambers sign off on continuing resolutions that allocate funds until a full budget can be passed. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, in the past 26 years, Congress has passed a year-long budget only three times, in 1989, 1995 and 1997.
So the next time you hear Joe Scarborough rhapsodizing about his time of service in the House and all their budgetary miracles, be aware that a year-long budget was passed only twice (1995, 1997) during his six year tenure. For the remaining four years, Congress operated in the exact same way they do today…by passing continuous resolutions. In fact, in 2001, the final year of the Clinton administration, Congress passed 21 short-term funding bills, more than in any other year in the past quarter of a century.
The following charts are from the Congressional Research Service report entitled Duration of Continuing Resolutions in Recent Years.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 was signed into law by President Obama on August 2, 2011. The law involved the creation of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “super committee”) and automatic budget sequestration. While the Republicans criticize sequestration and blame the President for its creation, they voted for it. Keep in mind that this is the party that has opposed EVERYTHING the President has supported. The House passed the Act by a vote of 269–161… 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for it.
The recent “No Budget/No Pay” fiasco is just that…It is the GOP’s Houdini move to escape from a debt ceiling defeat and the bonds of sequestration. Afterall, at the time they made the deal, they would have said anything because President Obama was about to bite the dust. It didn’t work out as they thought, and hopefully, neither will this silly scheme.
Tags: Budget Control Act of 2011, Congressional Budget Act of 1974, congressional budgets, continuing resolutions, Joe Scarborough, No Budget/No Pay, politico, Pres. Obama, sequestration, super committee