This Year's Congressional Budget Process Is Even Worse Than Usual

This Year's Congressional Budget Process Is Even Worse Than Usual

Reuters/Erin Scott

The congressional process of funding the government — you know, lawmakers’ primary responsibility — has been a much-maligned mess for years now, routinely resulting in stopgap spending bills, threats of government shutdowns or actual stoppages of federal work. This year’s process is shaping up to be no different — or perhaps a particularly egregious example of the budgeting and appropriations dysfunction.

How bad is it?

Politico’s Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma report that appropriators are so far behind on their annual work that, with 15 weeks to go before the next government shutdown deadline, top lawmakers already assume they’ll have to resort to another stopgap spending measure:

“Half a dozen senators on the influential Appropriations Committee interviewed by POLITICO seem to have resigned themselves to keeping the government functioning past September using a stopgap funding bill known as a continuing resolution, rather than passing a long-term spending bill.  … Congress has failed for well over a decade to meet the Oct. 1 deadline for funding the government, resorting each year to temporary patches that spell budgetary turmoil for the Pentagon, not to mention every non-defense agency at the whim of the fickle spending process. But seldom have lawmakers been so behind in that work as they are this year.”

The process has been so delayed, Scholtes and Emma explain, in part because President Joe Biden and Congress have focused most of their attention on other agenda items, from the Covid relief package enacted in March to the infrastructure bill now being debated. Biden’s budget request, released last month, was the latest ever. And lawmakers have yet to make substantial progress on funding levels for defense and non-defense spending. “We’re always talking, and our staffs are talking. But as far as crystallizing engagement — you know, real serious — the answer would have to be no, at this point,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Politico. “It’s going to be a long winter.”

The level of defense spending is expected to be particularly contentious, with Biden calling for an increase of less than 2% while progressives press for cuts and other Democrats, along with Republicans, push for a larger boost. Republicans, meanwhile, will keep pushing back strongly against Biden’s proposed 16.5% increase in non-defense spending, arguing that it will balloon the size of government and explode the national debt while “taking a sledgehammer” to the “parity principle” of comparable increases for military and non-defense spending that has been the basis for bipartisan budget deals in recent years.

Without a deal on the topline defense and non-defense numbers, the House is expected to pass spending bills this year that Senate Republicans will reject, leaving lawmakers to again fall back on one or more continuing resolutions.

"What I'm asking is not to have a House number that nobody is going to accept,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Politico. "Only after you've seen this movie 100 times, wouldn’t you like to have a better ending? We're headed toward a CR, which is a disaster for the military. It’s just a crappy way to run the government. Like, give me numbers."

Read more at Politico.