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The Value of Full-Year Appropriations

December 10, 2019
Weekly Columns

Once again, Congress is quickly approaching another critical deadline related to government funding. At this time last year when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, more than 75 percent of annual funding had already been signed into law in record time before the start of the fiscal year. Unfortunately, now more than two months into the current fiscal year, no full-year appropriations bills have passed out of Congress or been signed into law.

That means the government is currently funded – until December 20 – by something called a continuing resolution. A continuing resolution (CR) simply means that current spending levels and policies continue for a specified period (usually short-term). While this scenario is better than putting the country through the painful consequences of a government shutdown, funding only by CRs abdicates Congress’ ability to adjust spending and policies to reflect the country’s changing needs and priorities.

It’s important to remember that at the end of July Congress passed – and President Trump signed into law – the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which set budgetary levels for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This bipartisan and bicameral compromise was the result of a good faith negotiation between the president and congressional leaders, and it achieved several wins for the American people – including a significant and desperately needed increase to support and rebuild our national defense.

Though the budget agreement was enacted, the authorized spending cannot be realized without full-year appropriations. The process of fulfilling this fundamental function of Congress involves hearings, discussions and markups in the 12 subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. As you might know, I sit on the House Appropriations Committee and serve as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Each of those 12 subcommittees writes an annual funding bill, which together cover operations for the entire federal government.

Sadly, each time Congress opts to pass CRs instead of completing the 12 individual bills, lawmakers irresponsibly forgo the opportunity to make changes to spending and deliver any authorized increases – like the $22 billion secured for the military in the budget deal. CRs also create a lot of uncertainty for the various departments across the federal government. For example, Secretary Esper recently explained the damaging impact on the Department of Defense, “CRs disrupt training, impede readiness, delay maintenance, impose uncertainty on the workforce and induce inefficient and constrained contracting practices.”

While CRs are certainly not an ideal or even the intended way to fund the government, there is one thing that’s worse. And that is shutting down the government. When the government has a full or even partial lapse in funding, it can needlessly cause billions of dollars of damage to the economy. Moreover, it threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of dedicated federal workers, jeopardizes benefits and services Americans rely on, undermines our national defense and puts our security at risk. 

As Congress rapidly nears the latest deadline and as funding negotiations continue, I remain hopeful that we can finalize full-year appropriations and see them signed into law. But regardless, I will certainly be voting to keep the government open.

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