A Quarter Century of Failure | Citizens Against Government Waste

A Quarter Century of Failure

The WasteWatcher

October 1, 2021 will mark the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 2022.  It also serves as the deadline for members of Congress to complete the most basic aspect of their job:  passing the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government.

Unfortunately, legislators are highly unlikely to complete the FY 2022 bills on time, marking 25 years of futility. 

In every instance since FY 1997, Congress has resorted to passing a continuing resolution (CR), which provides the same funding level as the prior year, in order to buy time to complete the appropriations process.  Congress has passed 119 CRs since FY 1998, averaging 5.3 such bills each year.  While intended to be short-term, the bills have lasted on average 142.7 days, or nearly five months.  In FYs 2011 and 2013, Congress resorted to full-year CRs.

Stopgap funding bills have long been the rule rather than the exception.  In addition to FY 1997, legislators passed the appropriations bills on time in only three instances over the past 44 years:  FYs 1977, 1989, and 1995.  Tardy approval of the bills appears to be one of the few remaining areas of bipartisan consensus.  Both divided and unified control by Democrats and Republicans over the House, Senate, and presidency have existed over that timeframe without changing the results.

The House of Representatives have managed to pass nine of the FY 2022 bills so far.  The Senate, where a lethargic legislative style is considered an art form, is unlikely to pass a single spending bill prior to the deadline for a third consecutive year.  Limited remaining time in session in both chambers and alternative legislative priorities seem guaranteed to result in yet another CR to start FY 2023.

The frequent use of CRs demonstrates remarkably poor governance.  The short-term bills neutralize the government’s significant buying power.  Instead of paying in advance for bulk orders at lower prices, CRs force agencies to purchase fewer items at a time, driving up prices.  They also undermine the effectiveness of agencies by creating delays and raising costs for multi-year projects, as well as disrupting the onboarding of new employees.

Even with the added time provided by a CR to finalize the individual spending bills, legislators frequently resort to passing several appropriations bills together in omnibus packages.  The end result is thousands of pages of text, which minimizes the amount of time for members of Congress and the public to digest the contents of the bills.

The inability to adhere to the most basic guidelines of the budget process is one reason for Congress’ unpopularity among voters.  Only 26 percent of Americans currently approve of the way members of Congress do their jobs. 

Perhaps the message that this behavior is not acceptable will force legislators to recommit themselves to their core responsibility beginning in 2022 and finally pass the appropriations bills on time once again.  However, if recent history is any indication, senators and representatives will likely extend their woeful streak well into the future.

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