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How long can we operate without a budget?

The nation has been whipsawed this year by budget arguments in Congress that run perilously close to forcing a shutdown before coming back from the brink, just briefly,  before the whole cycle starts over again.

Beyond the obvious stress on federal employees, who can’t count on having a paycheck during the period when the shutdown looks possible, this isn’t good for anyone, except for posturing members of Congress. And maybe not even for them.

Congress didn't reach a final agreement on the fiscal 2011 budget until April, more than halfway through the fiscal year. And before that, the last budget Congress passed was on April 29, 2009. The country has been largely running on continuing resolutions, temporary stopgap measures that preserve existing or reduced levels of funding for a set period of time and then expire, starting the negotiations all over again.

This calendar year, those negotiations have been contentious enough that the very real chance of a shutdown has arisen three times (twice over spending bills, once over the debt ceiling), and there’ll be at least one more opportunity before the year ends. (That fourth chance will be in a different fiscal year.)

At least one member of Congress, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), tried to give her colleagues more incentive to pass a budget. A bill she introduced in June, the “Just Do Your Job Act of 2011” (HR 2372), would have defunded Congressional budget committees and majority leadership offices if Congress failed to pass a budget.

But her bill, despite having attracted six co-sponsors, was referred to the Committee on House Administration on the day it was introduced and went no further, according to the Library of Congress’s Thomas.loc.gov site. Buerkle's bill applied only to the budgets for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, but many FCW readers have similarly suggested that Congress should not get paid when it fails to pass a budget. However, given that the very people who can't get budgets passed are the ones who would vote on such a proposal, it seems like an unlikely step.

We’re not sure how to solve this problem, but we are pretty sure it’s going to become an increasingly dangerous problem if it’s not solved soon. The nation can’t function for long on stop-gap funding and angry rhetoric. Congress just needs to do its job.

Any solutions out there?

Posted on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 American Patriot

Let get the President to invoke an executive order stating that congress must have a balanced budget for him to sign or they don't get paid until they do each year and no retro pay for failure. Instead forefeiture of pay and get the judical branch to back it. You'll be amazed at how easy they will balance the budget. It just takes someone with a brain to think up things that really do work. Too bad there aren't any of those in washington dc.

Fri, Sep 30, 2011

A law or constitutional amendment stating that starting January 2 of each year, Congress SHALL be in session at least 6 days a week, with no recesses allowed until the appropriation bills for the following fiscal year are passed, and that no other bills may be considered until they are ALL passed.

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 Jack

Pass an amendment that says that congress and their assistants get no pay until after the budget is passed and that they can get no more than 90 days back pay. That might get budgets passed April.

Fri, Sep 30, 2011

The problem is that congress is too representative of the people. When almost every constituent that is vocal is "NIMBY" (or the reverse) on every issue that might possibly have a negative consequence for them, then congress has no sense of what America wants because what one person wants is diametrically opposed to what someone else wants. There is no solution to this that I can come up with. Anyone that does have a solution to this is "NIMBY" (or the reverse) and is trying to divert attention to or from their particular interest.

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 Karla Ohio

I think final approval should rest with the People. This is supposed to be Government for the People by the People - not Government by the Politicians for Special Interests and Lobbyists. I wholeheartedly agree that they should not get paid if they can't do their jobs and the approval for such a law should not rest with them - who have only their own interests at heart as has been shown repeatedly - but with the PEOPLE. Let the People be the conscience they are so evidently lacking.

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