Congress Returns, Facing Short Timeline on Budget

Issue Brief
Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Congress is returning from its lengthy recess to a depressingly familiar situation for this time of year: The budget process has broken down and lawmakers have only a few weeks to reach agreement on legislation needed to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Also depressingly familiar: While haggling through much of the year over spending bills that cover only a slice of the federal budget, Congress again failed to focus on the need for comprehensive fiscal reforms to put the nation on a sustainable long-term path.

Each year Congress is supposed to approve a dozen spending bills to fund the “discretionary” part of the budget -- everything from defense to law enforcement to the national parks. So far Congress is 0-for-12 on sending the 2017 bills to the President.

Consequently, lawmakers are now discussing -- and arguing over -- a “continuing resolution” (CR) that would generally keep government departments and agencies at their current funding levels for a certain period of time.

Such resolutions are a poor way to govern, allocating money regardless of changing needs and leaving federal officials in the dark as to what their budgets will be for the coming year. So the less time Congress relies on continuing resolutions, the better.

Some conservative lawmakers are pushing for one that would remain in effect until next March but that would unwisely burden the next president with budget issues that current elected officials should have resolved months ago.

External links:Congress Returns With One Goal: No Government Shutdown (Washington Post)Congress Returns for Pre-Election Sprint (The Hill)