This week Congress is expected to act on a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund most federal agencies at last year’s levels through March 4. Action is necessary because neither the $1.09 trillion full-year CR passed by the House nor the $1.11 trillion omnibus bill proposed by Senate Democrats was able to pass the Senate.
Limiting the growth of discretionary spending is a reasonable goal, but a CR is not a responsible way to budget. By placing most agency budgets on autopilot for months, the CR will give extraordinary discretion to the executive branch and prevent Congress from developing a comprehensive budget that could shift resources from ineffective programs to more effective ones.
A CR that expires in March would set the stage for a contentious debate early in the 112th Congress. At a time when Congress would normally turn its attention to the President’s budget proposals for the next fiscal year, the administration and lawmakers will also need to complete this year’s unfinished business.
Next year, policymakers should work to quickly finalize the fiscal 2011 budget and then avoid another breakdown of the budget process. Instead of the annual parade of CRs and an end-of-the-year omnibus, Congress should pass a real budget resolution and consider appropriations bills using the process required by the Budget Act.