This week, a rare bipartisan majority in the House approved a $1.1 trillion stopgap spending measure that will keep the government funded through Dec. 11. The temporary measure, called a continuing resolution, likely will pass in the Senate today.
Although the CR likely will be heralded as a successful bipartisan effort that avoided a government shutdown, Americans should question why Congress insists on waiting until the last minute to pass dubious spending bills in the first place.
Members of Congress pretty much have one mandatory job every year—to pass a budget to fund the government. The law requires them to do this by debating and voting on 12 separate appropriations bills that each fund different parts of the government. By passing the bills separately, members must weigh the merits and costs of programs and make tough decisions about what to fund. Constituents can hold their representatives accountable by comparing their members’ spending votes to their own priorities and those of the nation.
But lawmakers have decided to abandon the openness of the appropriations process in favor of a continuing resolution, which puts off the nation’s real problems and allows them to take credit for avoiding a (self-imposed) government shutdown.
After expressing great optimism in the spring, members of both parties have no excuse for shirking their constitutional duty to wield the power of the purse yet again. A CR means few spending changes or open debate like there would be for the 12 separate bills. This ensures inefficient or unnecessary programs will continue to receive taxpayer funding.
Even worse, eschewing the appropriations process and relying on CRs presents legislators with a false dilemma: Fund all federal programs en masse or shutter the entire government. Boston University Professor Angelo Codevilla recognizes this problem as a great failure of our current legislative system:
[O]ur bipartisan ruling class limits the Congress’ opportunity to approve, disapprove, or modify what the government does, to voting on ‘Continuing Appropriations Resolutions’ – single, all-inclusive bills crafted behind closed doors. Then it cynically asks the people’s representatives: ‘[W]ill you agree to laws no one has read, to programs on the continuation of which you have not voted, and to regulations that haven’t been written yet, or will you shut down the government?’ This turns democracy into a choice between tyranny and anarchy.
Americans should be outraged this is the choice representatives inflict upon themselves every year. Ending the reliance on short-term spending measures that maintain the status quo would be good budget policy. But more importantly, a proper spending process would help restore Americans’ faith that their representatives can govern effectively and accountably.