A Congressional Failure to Budget
Ever since 1974’s Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act became law, members of the U.S. Congress have had a horrible track record in obeying their own budget rules.
The law went into effect ahead of the U.S. government’s 1977 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 1976. Since then, the U.S. Congress has managed to pass all twelve appropriations bills required by the law before the start of its next fiscal year just four times. That’s out of the 46 fiscal years that have come and gone since the budget law went into effect. If it ever comes up in a trivia contest, the four years when Congress passed all 12 bills needed for a complete budget on time are 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997.
Since 2010, members of Congress appear to have all but given up making any effort to pass any of the 12 budget appropriation bills required by law on time. The only exceptions were in 2017 and 2019, when Congress passed one and five of the twelve appropriations bills on time, respectively. Otherwise, Congress has chosen to operate without serious budget discipline over its spending.
Every other year, politicians have come to rely on continuing resolutions to keep the federal government operating. Except they’re not good at doing that either. The newest example is the stopgap funding bill signed into law on September 30, just before the federal government would have been shut down. Now, it won’t shut down, but only for another 45 days.
It’s as if no member of Congress remembers what happened in August when Fitch Ratings stripped the U.S. government of its AAA credit rating. Nor do they remember why: because of governance issues. Or, more accurately, the lack of effective governance, which permeates both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, from Capitol Hill to the White House.
You know it’s bad when the best budget idea proposed by a bipartisan group of elected members in the House of Representatives, who call themselves the “Problem Solvers,” involved kicking the can down the road for a little longer before setting up a new commission to propose budget reforms because all the previous ones have been so successful.
Only in Washington, D.C.
2023 is different only in that the failure to pass a budget per the 1974 law finally had a real consequence for an elected member of Congress who flouted it. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy became former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in part because of the failure to pass a budget to advance his party’s goals. If he had, there’s little question he would still be wielding the Speaker’s gavel.
Now, where are the consequences for the generations of politicians who haven’t faced any for their budgeting failures?