The federal government has been running by continuing resolutions for some time—a product of the inability of Congress to execute one of its prime constitutional functions: authorizing and appropriating funds. The textbook version of the budget process is quite simple. It is also largely irrelevant given that Congress rarely passes the twelve appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1). As the Office of Management and Budget’s FY 2013 Analytical Perspectives notes (p. 127):
Since 1977, when the start of the fiscal year was established as October 1, there have been only three fiscal years (1989, 1995, and 1997) for which the Congress agreed to and enacted every regular appropriations bill by that date. When one or more appropriations bills has not been agreed to by this date, Congress usually enacts a joint resolution called a “continuing resolution,’’ (CR) which is an interim or stop-gap appropriations bill that provides authority for the affected agencies to continue operations at some specified level until a specific date or until the regular appropriations are enacted. Occasionally, a CR has funded a portion or all of the Government for the entire year.
The Congress must present these CRs to the President for approval or veto. In some cases, Presidents have rejected CRs because they contained unacceptable provisions. Left without funds, Government agencies were required by law to shut down operations—with exceptions for some limited activities—until the Congress passed a CR the President would approve. Shutdowns have lasted for periods of a day to several weeks.
This shutdown may prove more interesting than the last 17 shutdowns because of the failure to pass any appropriation bills. The House passed but 4 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2014 while the Senate passed none at all—the norm for the Senate since fiscal year 2011 (see the record at the Library of Congress).
To state things in simple terms, if the Congress executed its constitutional responsibilities and passed the necessary appropriations bills, we would not have government by continuing resolution. This, in turn, would eliminate the ability of any party to use the CR to promote policy goals. One might fault the House GOP’s strategy of using the CR to magnify its influence over policy outcomes, but the larger problem is the failure of Congress as an institution.
Any surprises that the approval rating for Congress has fallen to a record low of 10 percent?